Unloved Veggies: Fennel

wild fennel in western washington

Raw, natural fennel must look pretty weird to a lot of market shoppers. Fennel bulbs don’t enjoy the broad recognition of other summer favorites like tomatoes and peppers. Also, having a reputation for “tasting like black licorice” is probably a turn off when you’re looking for dinner items. I’m here to tell you that this goofy-looking vegetable is truly a gem – and it really doesn’t taste like old-fashioned candy (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).

A good source of vitamin C and potassium, fennel bulb and fennel seed are recognized for having medicinal qualities; try having a few slices of raw fennel after a meal as a digestive. It is also an ingredient in absinthe. Raw fennel does have a licorice-like flavor, but it’s quite subtle. If you roast or cook it, that flavor recedes even further into the background.

Distinct, contrasting flavors compliment fennel’s unique flavor. It shines in raw salads – try it in Mediterranean-style dishes that include citrus, olive oil, and fresh herbs. I simply slice it and add it to whatever lettuce salad I’m making.

mandoline for thin slices

Perhaps because fennel is hard and crunchy, using a sharp knife or a mandoline to shave it is a great way to ensure that you get the right ratio of fennel to other salad ingredients. Here are some ideas for raw fennel salads:

Not into raw? Roasted fennel is also great paired with your veggie favorites, such as potatoes and carrots. Chicken and pork are good partners. This roasted, curried fennel would be a great meatless side. So would this one for roasted fennel, chickpeas, peppers and grapes.

thin-sliced fennel

Feeling a little adventurous? Try pickling it – this recipe has that classic pairing with citrus; you can make it spicy and sweet or tangy.

Fennel is in season here in central Illinois from July to September, though usually you can find fresh fennel at the Thanksgiving Market (my family requests it every year!). That’s a good thing, because once you try it, you’re going to want more!