What to Do With All That . . . Fennel
Make sure to let some of your plants develop flower heads, as you can collect the seeds, both for sowing the next year, but also for culinary use. Fennel seed can be chewed as is as a breath freshener. You can find bags of fennel seed candied in a manner similar to Jordan Almonds (mukhwas) at Indian grocery stores. It is technically possible to make a form of candied fennel yourself, but the pre-packaged ones are inexpensive and beautifully colored, so very few people bother making this at home. (In the Netherlands, the smaller but similarly flavored anise seed is candied to make "muisjes" or "little mice" so named for the tails created by the narrow end of the seed. This is generally eaten atop bread.)
Ground, toasted fennel seed is used liberally in many Indian-style curry recipes and pre-mixed curry powders. The whole seed is essential to Panch Phoron, (a spice mix common to Bangladesh and East India) alongside whole fenugreek, nigella, cumin and black mustard. The name literally means, "five spices," but this should not be confused with the five spice powder described in the next paragraph.
Fennel is also one of the traditional ingredients in Chinese Five Spice Powder. This mix is more commonly used in restaurants than by Chinese home cooks. However, in Hawaii, you will often find shakers of Chinese Five Spice as a condiment placed on your table. To make your own Chinese Five Spice Powder, place equal amounts of fennel seeds, roughly crushed cinnamon sticks, cloves, star anise, and Szechuan peppercorns in a spice grinder and whirr until you have a uniform powder. Transfer the Five Spice Powder to an airtight container.
Fennel seed is the distinctive "licorice" taste in Italian Sausage. It is relatively simple to make your own bulk Italian sausage (to be cooked in patties, rather than stuffed into casings. You simply combine chunks of pork roast with seasonings (crushed fennel, parsley, red pepper, salt, black pepper and garlic) and put it through either a meat grinder or a food processor.
Fennel seed is also a traditional element in Russian Black Bread, and often shows up in other rye breads. Cubes of this type of bread can be dried to make croutons.
The leaves of the fennel plant are cooked as a vegetable in India. In Syria and Lebanon, fennel leaves are a common addition to ejjeh, a type of frittata. In Greece, fennel leaves are used in savory pies, and to season chicken and fish dishes.
Florence Fennel (a cultivar with a bulbous leaf base) can be eaten as a vegetable, either raw or cooked. When a recipe calls for fennel bulb it is referencing this base, rather than a true underground bulb. This part of the plant has a much milder flavor than the flowers or seeds. In France, fennel bulbs are baked, boiled or braised, and are sometimes placed on the bottom of a pan to form a "bed" while cooking other foods. Try braising a few quartered fennel bulbs with ginger and white wine.
In Germany, as well as Italy, raw fennel can be a starring ingredient in a salad. It goes well with onions and citrus, or with avocado. You can also toss it into German-style potato salads.
It can be shaved into beautiful thin strips, which make it easier to sauté with other vegetables, Mediterranean style. Fennel bulbs can also be grated and baked into muffins and breads. Grated fennel can be mixed into carrot slaw or cole slaw. Grated fennel can also be used to add bulk to meatballs.
Fennel bulb shows up in both tangines and salads in Morocco. For a vegetarian fennel and potato tangine, sautee quartered fennel bulbs with onion, garlic, celery, tomato and parsley. Add water together with coriander, ginger turmeric and cumin and simmer for about a quarter of an hour, then add some diced potatoes and a little ghee or butter and cook until everything is tender. Towards the end of cooking, add some frozen peas. Serve the tagine over rice.
In Spain, eggplant stuffed with fennel and other goodies is served as a tapas. These same ingredients can be turned into a Mediterranean-style stew.
Every part of this herb / vegetable that grows above ground has a culinary use. Save any pieces you have leftover to toss into the stock pot.
This article just skims the surface of all the ways this versatile plant has been used in traditional recipes around the globe. These examples can help you get a feel for how fennel can be used in your own kitchen. I hope you use it as a springboard to your own creations.
Discussion about this article: