Fennel just isn’t offered enough. I rarely see the fragrant vegetable on restaurant menus or in the prepared meals section of grocery stores. It’s sad to see that fennel has gone to the black books. I’d think that chefs would love to incorporate fennel more into their dishes—easy to cut, cooks quickly, adds lots of flavor, all three parts (bulb, stems, and fronds) are edible, versatile, and so incredibly nutritious. Oh well, it’s all Greek to me!
Fennel has an important history in Europe, as the plant is indigenous to the Mediterranean. Nations around the continent planted and cultivated fennel to use it for a variety of purposes, including warding off witchcraft and medicinal reasons. Poets, philosophers, and other specialists wrote about how fennel provides us with strength and courage. From Spain to Sweden, fennel was a super star. What happened?
I’m letting fennel share the limelight in my diet now, as among it’s many medicinal powers, fennel has antioxidants to help prevent free radicals from crippling our cells. The phytonutrient called anethole provides the strong wall in blocking carcinogenesis, when regular cells become cancerous ones. In order to really get a supersaturated serving of antioxidants in the bag, fennel needs a sidekick. So fennel, meet fennel seeds. The fennel bulb is not the same plant as seeding fennel, although they are related. Fennel seeds have a similar background, coming from Europe, and was also used for medicinal purposes, such as an appetite suppressant. The antioxidants kaempferol and quercetin protect us from cancers, especially with the help of added fiber that the seeds contain. Let’s get fennel out of the doghouse and into our lives! With fennel seeds, this dynamic duo will get us into the pink of good condition… Euro-style.
Sautéed Fennel with Fennel Seed
modified from “Sautéed Fennel with Lemon and Pepper.” Cooking Light. Sept 2007.
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 2 small-medium fennel bulbs
- 1 tablespoon chopped fennel fronds
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- To prepare fennel, cut off all of the stems so all you have is the bulb. With the bottom of the bulb on the counter, and the longer length of the bulb going from front to back, slice from top to bottom. In each half, cut out the center, almost like coring an apple. A larger chunk should be taken out from the bottom as this part is closer to the root, taking less out from the center as your knife moves up the bulb, almost forming an upside-down V. Once cored, slice the bulb into 1/2-inch slices.
- Cook fennel seeds in a medium frying pan over medium heat for about 3 minutes, or until toasted and fragrant. Remove from heat. Crush with a mortar and pestle, coffee/spice grinder, or by rolling a wine bottle over the seeds on a flat surface.
- Combine fennel, crushed fennel seeds, fennel fronds, salt, rind, and pepper in a large bowl.
- In the same frying pan, add oil and heat over medium heat. Add fennel mixture and partially cover with a lid. Cook for about 6 minutes, stirring 3-4 times, until the edges of some of the fennel slices brown and the fennel slices look soft. Serve immediately.
Start using fennel instead of celery in your recipes, especially if you find it at your farmers’ markets. This dish can share the plate with plenty of other options, such as smoked salmon, sausage, hearty breads, or polenta with tomato sauce. Bon ap, to antioxidants!