I’m a huge fan of fennel. It’s such a wonderful aromatic herb that can be used in various ways. Most people have seen fennel seeds on the spice isle in the grocery store. They can be found whole or ground and have a pungent flavor that is perfect for dishes like curries and different breads. But some people don’t realize that all parts of the fennel plant are edible.
Many of us have probably seen fresh fennel in the produce section of the grocery store and not realized what we were looking at or how to use it. Fennel is a large whitish bulb with lots of hollow, green stems that have bright green, feathery leaves. The leaves look similar to dill. Both the bulb and the leaves have a mild licorice flavor. Once you get over the awkward-looking nature of the plant, it’s actually pretty easy to use in various ways.
One of the characteristics I love about fennel is its ability to add a wonderful flavor to dishes–it can make bland dishes much more interesting. Using fennel is a great way to add flavor without adding a lot of sodium. Nutritionally, it contains some important vitamins and minerals like calcium, potassium, vitamin C and folate.
There are many ways to use the different parts of the fennel plant. The dill-looking leaves are wonderful for seasoning fish. They can also be chopped up into salads or added to dressings and low-fat dips. The next time you make an oil and vinegar dressing, add some chopped fennel leaves and see what you think.
The white bulb has a wonderful crunch and can be sliced and eaten raw in salads. It pairs really well with different meats. Try adding the chopped bulb next time you’re browning some ground turkey or extra-lean ground beef. It can also be added to soups, stews or pasta dishes.
One of my favorite ways to use fennel is in soups. The winter season is a wonderful time to incorporate various warming soups and stews into your meal plan. Here’s the recipe of a great soup that includes fennel. I use this one quite often–it’s healthy, delicious and full of nutritious vegetables and beans:
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 onions, chopped
- 2 carrots, sliced
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 celery stalks, finely diced
- 1 fennel bulb, trimmed and chopped
- 2 large zucchini, finely sliced
- 14 oz can crushed tomatoes
- 2 Tbsp pesto (store bought from a jar, or you can make your own)
- 3 3/4 cup vegetable stock
- 14 oz can beans (any kind you like–I’ve used white, kidney, great Northern, etc.)
- Salt and pepper
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onions, carrots, garlic, celery and fennel and saute slowly for 10 minutes. Add the zucchini slices and cook for 2 more minutes.
- Add the crushed tomatoes, pesto, stock and beans and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover and simmer for 25-30 minutes, until all the vegetables are tender. Season with salt and pepper.
- Ladle a portion of soup into a bowl, sprinkle with some parmesan cheese and serve with a slice of whole grain bread. Enjoy!
Rachel Cope MPH, RD, CD