Fennel in the Mediterranean Food Climate
Fennel is one of the quintessential scents, flavors, and foods characteristic of California’s Mediterranean climate. While it is a frequent ingredient favored by Italian, Mediterranean, and modern California cuisine, it is often overlooked by Americans even though the vegetable can often be seen growing wild on along roadsides, or on hillside habitats above the waves, with elegant green feathery fronds. Fennel’s greens, flowers, and seeds resemble its closest relatvies–the other members of the plant family known as the Apiacea or Umbelliferae, which includes celery, carrots, and parsley.
Look for Fennel in Farmers’ Markets
To identify it in farmers’ markets, produce aisles, or in the wild, look for a fat, white bulb from which long feathery, green stalks shoot up. While all parts are edible, the bulb is deliciously crunchy and has an aromatic sweet flavor similar to licorice. The taste is sharper when raw, yet mellows when cooked. Given this subtlety, fennel works well in both sweet and savory dishes. The seeds may be familiar for making appearances in bowls at Indian restaurants where they are served as a post-meal digestive. Additionally, the fragrant fronds can be snipped and used as a decorative garnish, much like dill.
Nutritional Value of Fennel
According to Michael Murray’s The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, fennel is an excellent source of Vitamin C, potassium, phosphorus, folic acid, and is also high in magnesium, manganese, iron, calcium, and molybdenum., Fennel is also high in cancer-fighting coumarin compounds such as anethole which has been shown to reduce inflammation and has even been shown to have cancer preventative qualities. Fennel’s phytoestrogen content may be useful in remedying symptoms of menopause. It’s a nutrient and flavor-dense food clocking in at 31 calories and 3.1 grams of fiber per 3.5 ounce serving.
How to Choose Fennel
To ensure freshness, choose bulbs that still have their stalks attached and whose fronds smell bright like licorice or anise. Try roasting it with its Umbelliferae cousins, or slice it raw into salads with fresh oranges, parsley, and mint. For a patriotic July 4 dish, combine white fennel with red strawberries and blueberries.
Red, White, and Blue Fennel Salad
½ tsp sea salt
¼ tsp freshly cracked black pepper
3 Tbsp Balsamic vinegar
1 bulb fennel
2 cups (1 pint) organic strawberries
1 cup blueberries
2 Tbsp fresh parsley
1 Tbsp fresh basil
½ Tbsp fresh mint, optional
3 Tbsp flaxseed oil
1 head red leaf lettuce
1 bunch fresh spinach
- In medium bowl, whisk salt and pepper into Balsamic vinegar, and then slowly whisk in the flaxseed oil.
- Chop ½ inch off the base and top of the fennel bulb and discard; reserve the fronds for garnish.
- Slice the bulb in half lengthwise. Place the flat side on the cutting board, slice cross ways into thirds, and then spin a quarter turn and slice a quarter inch to make fat, stubby matchsticks.
- Rinse, hull, and slice strawberries. Rinse and dry blueberries. Add berries and fennel matchsticks to the bowl with the dressing and toss well.
- Finely chop the fresh herbs and add to the bowl along with fennel and berries.
- Toss well with the dressing.
- Prep the greens into bite-size pieces (rinse and spin well) and place in large bowl or serving dish. Take a third of the berry/fennel mix and toss with the lettuce, and then scoop the rest of the mixture on top.
To make and pack ahead, place dressing, berries, fennel and herbs in the bottom of a big bowl. Top with the lettuce and transport. Once at the party or picnic, give it a quick shake and pour onto a platter or into a large serving dish.
Red Jen Ford is a Certified Holistic Health Coach, Yoga Instructor and Seasonal Eating Expert. Jen teaches her clients the benefits and simplicity of eating local, sustainably grown food. Enjoy more of her dishes in her seasonal recipe booklets or her online course, Simply in Season: Recipes to Celebrate Healthy, Easy Seasonal Food.