Sunday, July 17, 2011

Fantastic Fennel

Fennel is not a vegetable commonly found on the typical Asian dinner table. It is more popular in mediterranean and western cuisine. I tried fennel for the very first time after moving here to Chicago. We get wonderful fresh fennel during the late spring to summer time. They look so juicy and pretty that you can't help but buy them home for a gourmet meal. :)

Fennel is both a herb and a vegetable depending on which part of the plant you are talking about. The inflated leaf bases of the fennel forms a bub-like structure (see picture above), just like an onion. From the bulb, closely superimposed stalks are arranged. The stalks are topped with feathery green leaves near which flowers grow and produce fennel seeds.

Fennel was originally cultivated widely in the Mediterranean and is commonly associated with Italian cuisine, one of my favorite cuisines. The bulb can be eaten raw or cooked and has a mild licorice flavor, but slightly sweeter. When eaten raw in salads, fennel adds a nice crunch and texture to the overall dish. It also gives a fresh lively note to salads and sauces. Fennel seeds have a stronger flavor than the leaves and a bittersweet aftertaste. The seed contains the most amount of anethole, the main constituent of its essential oil, which gives it it’s anise character. Dry roasting the seed brings out the sweetness. Fennel pairs well with seafood and other citrus flavors like lemon.

Nutritional value of fennel
Fennel is an excellent source of vitamin C. It also provides a very good amount of dietary fiber, potassium, manganese, folate, niacin as well as other minerals such as phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, iron and copper.

Buying and storing fennel
Good quality fennels have bulbs that are clean, firm and solid, without any signs of splitting, bruising or spotting. The bulbs are whitish or pale green in color and the stalks are quite straight and closely superimposed around the bulb. There are no signs of flowering buds and have a slight fragrant aroma that of licorice or anise. Fennel is usually available from autumn through early spring.

Fennels are best consumed soon after purchase since it ages and tends to gradually lose its flavor.

Store fresh fennel in the refrigerator crisper. Keep in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days. Dried fennel seeds should be stored in an airtight container in a cool and dry location where they will keep for about a year.

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