Greek myths revere fennel, for the Greeks believed that stalks of fennel passed down the knowledge of the gods to man. I can’t promise you that, but I can tell you that fennel packs a flavorful aromatic taste, and it is contains a unique combination of healthy phytonutrients that give it strong antioxidant activity.
Fennel is a crunchy vegetable with a taste that is similar to licorice and anise. The vegetable is widely available from autumn through early spring. It has a white or pale green bulb that has closely bunch stalks topped with feather-like green leaves. From these leaves, flowers which produce fennel seeds can grow. The bulb, stalk, and leaves are all edible, and they are closely related to parsley, carrots, dill, and coriander.
Fennel packs big flavor for very few calories (only 25 calories for a 3/4-cup serving). It has no fat or cholesterol, and is low in sodium. Fennel is a good source of vitamin C (15 percent of the daily requirement), as well as calcium and iron (containing 4 percent of each). It is very low in cholesterol, and is also a good source of niacin, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, folate, potassium, and manganese. The fennel seeds are a storehouse for many vital vitamins. Vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin C, as well as many B-complex vitamins like thiamin, pyridoxine, riboflavin, and niacin particularly, are concentrated here. Because of the strong phytonutrient profile of fennel, it has been associated with many health benefits, such as aiding in digestion, cancer prevention, and controlling heart rate and blood pressure.
The different parts of the fennel plant can all be used in cooking. You will want to cut the stalks from the bulb. Depending upon your recipes, you can use the bulb whole and intact, raw or cooked, or cut it into a variety of shapes and sizes. Probably the best way to slice it is to slice it vertically down the center. The stalks can be used for soups, stocks, and stews, and the leaves for herbal seasonings. Sauteed fennel and onions can be a delicious side dish.
The next time you are looking to add some new flavor to a sandwich, consider sliced fennel. Or one of my favorite uses is to dice some fennel up to add it to tuna or chicken salad. It’s also an aromatic addition to fish, such as in this Whole Roasted Branzino recipe. Plus, fennel seeds are a key ingredient in Indian cuisine, so try your hand at those spicy and wonderfully fragrant dishes. Easy to do when you have the right mix of Indian spices on hand.
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