A Love Affair with Fennel
By Farah Masani
My love affair with fennel started when I was a child in India. Oh the aroma! The minty, liquorishy, anise flavor that explodes with each burst of the open fennel seed and cannot be described as anything other than “fennel.”
These memories take me back to the hot summer nights when I enjoyed spicy coconut curry meals with my family. Afterwards, we’d cool down with roasted fennel seeds – eaten like an after dinner mint. Go to any Indian restaurant and they serve them with the check. Nothing can cool you down like fennel.
Today, I also use fennel in the fields to cool down from the heat of summer. On a hot day it is simply refreshing to chomp on a sprig of fennel while sipping some water under a shady tree. Fennel is my go to snack in the fields.
Back home the old timers thought fennel would improve your eyesight – probably because it comes from the carrot family, or so they thought. I’m not sure about improving your eyesight, but it is very nutritious, healthy, full of antioxidants, and vitamin C. It is also known to settle your stomach.
In India we used fennel oils to reduce inflammation from cuts, scrapes and bruises. Women in the villages would give it to young, first time mothers because it is thought to increase lactation. It is also known to help with menstrual cramps.
All these are great reasons to love fennel. However, here are the reasons why I love fennel most of all.
1. You can use every part of the plant. I am not fond of waste. Therefore, I love fennel because you can use it all.
- The bulb – slice and sauté as a vegetable and serve as a side dish.
- The stem – grill with meats like fish.
- The fronds - serve in salads, with cucumbers and tomatoes.
- The seeds – use to roast and flavor meats, or just enjoy like we did after a hot meal.
2. Fennel plant releases a toxic-like biochemical into the soil that prevents weeds from growing around them. Fennel also repels fleas.
3. It makes a great sun tea. This is my signature drink at every summer event. Soak an entire fennel plant, bulb and all, in a mason jar filled with water and your favorite tea bags – mine is Darjeeling black. Place in the sun for an entire day and on the kitchen counter at night, making sure the fennel does not get back. Sweeten with maple syrup and serve over ice with lime and a sprig of the fronds.
4. Fennel bulbs make amazing vodka martinis. Place diced up fennel bulbs with any vodka of your choice in an air tight jar in a cool dark place for 3 days. After three days, add the sprigs and fronds and keep in the fridge for another day or two. Make sure the fennel does not turn black. Strain carefully and enjoy.
5. Fennel works well with oranges too in a salad of cold-diced beets and oranges with lime and ginger dressing.
So there you have it, all the reasons to love fennel. I urge you to give this frilly, refreshing, bulbous vegetable a shot. In vodka perhaps?
Farah Masani is a farmer living in Wilton, CT who recently joined the staff of Barcelona Restaurant Group where she is responsible for local sourcing. In July she launched the Barcelona Farmigo CSA program to provide the restaurant’s patrons and greater community with a convenient and flexible way to purchase more sustainably grown local food. Farah previously worked as a farm manager at Millstone Farm in Wilton.