Everyday Meals

Fennel, the Underrated Veggie That’s Surprisingly Easy to Use

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Ah, fennel! While this herbaceous bulb has been a part of Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine for generations, it’s lately been making a bigger splash in American homes and restaurants, lending its particular mild anise flavor to soups and salads, stir-fries, and more. Here’s everything you need to know about selecting and eating every part of the fennel plant.

What Is Fennel?

Fennel is a tall, perennial Mediterranean herb most closely related to the carrot. It has fronds (like dill), a bulb, flowers, and fruits (often called seeds) that are all edible, cooked or raw.

What Does Fennel Taste Like?

Hearing that fennel tastes like anise or licorice, many people decide to steer clear before even trying it. And while there are similarities, fennel — especially the bulb and leaves — is actually much milder than the pungent, almost-numbing licorice root. But fresh fennel does have the mildly sweet flavor associated with licorice, and the seeds (or fruit) are often candied and eaten after meals in India as a breath freshener.

The Fennel Top 5

Five fantastic features for fomenting fennel fondness.

What Are the Nutritional Benefits of Fennel?

A standard 3.5-ounce serving of raw fennel is fairly nutritious. At just 31 calories it contains 11% of your daily value for potassium, 12% fiber, 20% vitamin C, and has 7 grams of carbohydrates.

How to Choose the Best Fennel

Fennel is a cold-weather veggie, so while it’s available all year long, it’s freshest (and sweetest) from late fall to early spring. Look for firm, tightly packed bulbs with fresh, unwilted fronds. Avoid any that are bruised, or have lots of brown spots, or that look rubbery. It should keep well in the fridge, loosely wrapped in plastic, for about a week. And even after that, if the outside is unappetizing, the inner layers can often still be used.

How to Cut a Fennel Bulb

Whether you’re using it in salads or stir-fries, a fennel bulb is relatively straightforward to prepare: Just cut it the same way you might an onion (which is, after all, another bulb). After trimming off the fronds and stalks, we like to stand it up on its root and cut it in half, then simply chop the bulb up into thin slices. For a handy visual guide and more info, check out this link.

Read more: How to Cut Fennel

The Best Ways to Cook Fennel

There are many delicious ways to cook a fennel bulb! You can try the following:

  • Braise it with shallots.
  • Roast it with chicken thighs.
  • Shave it into a salad.
  • Caramelize it and serve with spicy sausage and pasta.

Fennel vs. Anise

Is there a difference between fennel and anise? While there are some confusing similarities, they’re actually unrelated plants. The seeds (or fruit) of both plants look the same and are used in much the same way. And if you’re looking at the plant in the ground, the stalks and flowers can look similar as well. But the only edible part of the anise plant is its seeds, while the entire fennel plant is edible. And anise does not grow from a bulb, the way fennel does.

Anise seed is also much more intense than fennel seed. It’s not often candied or sold for eating raw. Instead it tends to be used sparingly in cooking, either ground or whole, as a strong spice.

No Fresh Fennel? Here’s What to Substitute.

If you’re replacing the bulb or stalks in a cooked dish and either can’t find fennel or don’t want the licorice taste, try a combination of onion or celery. Both have a similar texture when cooked. If you’re replacing the bulb or stalks in a raw dish, celery is probably the best substitute.

For the fronds, both dill and tarragon will work as replacements, although they’ll change the flavor of the dish.

Are Fennel Seeds Nutritious?

Like many kinds of seeds, fennel fruit packs a dense amount of nutrition into a small package. Just 3.5 ounces of fennel seed contain 345 calories, 40 grams of fiber (nearly double the daily recommended amount), 14 grams of fat, and more than 20% of a variety of B vitamins and vitamin C. It also contains more than 100% dv of calcium, iron, and magnesium.

However, the seeds are not often eaten in such large amounts. A typical serving of seeds is closer to a tablespoon — or about 1/ 10 of an ounce.

The Best Ways to Use Up Leftover Fennel

Not sure what to do with the rest of a fennel bulb? Toss it with some arugula for a quick and easy salad! Or braise it with shallots and orange zest for a fast side that’s delicious and easy to reheat. If all else fails, put it in the oven with some other veggies to roast.

Our Top 15 Fennel Recipes

What’s your favorite recipe or use for fennel? Any favorite way to cook it?

31 Days of Vegetables: How to fall in love with vegetables in 31 days. How many of these splendid veg have you eaten this month? Take a look at the whole list and take our July challenge to eat every single one!

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