Although for centuries fennel has been a homeopathic remedy that relieves gas on the stomach, it has lately become a fashionable ingredient in salads. A fennel plant, which looks something like a stalk of celery, provides a wonderful taste when its base is chopped and added to salads or soups. The base, called a “bulb,”is what is used,rather than the top part of the plant, as a salad ingredient. In Italy it is sometimes sauteed and served as a side vegetable. Fennel seeds are the basis of licorice, as well as the basis for a deadly drink in the Middle East, called “arak.” You may know arak by different names, i.e, “ouzo” in Greece, “aquavit” in Scandinavia, and “Pernod” in France. I say deadly because it is such a smooth drink that it sneaks up on unsuspecting people who find it too smooth to stop. As some drinkers have been heard to say, it will turn your brain into guacamole.
Fennel bulbs can be kept refrigerated for up to a week. Once cut, it should be used immediately to avoid the cut surface discoloring. Fennel is a great addition to a green salad. The bulb can be braised, sauteed, baked or grilled. For sauting, whip abou ttwo tablespoons of butter per bulb, with chopped garlic, then saute until is tender. To enhance the flavor of the sauteed fennel, add some Arak, or Pernod, or Aquavit. Braising amounts to sauteing the fennel in a small amount of olive oil in a tightly cloased pan. For extra flavor, add some wine, cover and bake it for about 20 minutes in the oven.
Give fennel a try, but start slowly, because fennel has a very strong flavor.
Fennel and Cranberries Salad
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
4 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup coarsely ground walnuts, toasted
1 Granny Smith apple, thinly sliced
zest to one lemon
1/4 cup mango juice
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground annis seeds
dash chili pepper, optional
4 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons olive oil
-Mix the mango juice with the lemon zest, the lemon juice, the anise seeds, the chili pepper and the olive oil, and then soak the cranberries in this sauce for ten minutes.
-Toss the fennel with the apples and the celery. Add the cranberries with the marinade to this mixture and toss gently.
-Sprinkle the salad with the walnuts and serve.
-Add the cranberries with the mango juice to the