Europeans have long appreciated fennel, and Americans have now begun to acquire a taste for the celery-like vegetable with the feathery fronds that resemble dill.
Raw or cooked, fennel has an anise-like flavor that nicely complements many foods. The licorice flavor becomes lighter when the fennel is cooked.
Fennel not only adds variety and taste, but can be a good part of a health-protective diet. For example, fennel contains flavonoids, natural antioxidant plant compounds that seem to lower the risk of both cancer and heart disease. The beta-carotene in fennel is a powerful antioxidant believed to help reduce the risk of cancer, enhance immunity and prevent cataracts. Because it has only 13 calories in a half-cup serving, fennel is a great way to add interesting flavor and texture to meals in a weight-conscious way.
The pale green stems and fronds are attached to the top of the broad fennel bulb. What the French and Italians knew before us is that the bulb and stems of raw fennel can be chopped like celery and added to salads, stews, stir-fries and other main dishes. They also can be sautéed in a bit of olive oil and served as a side dish. (The fronds are usually reserved for garnish.)
If using fennel raw, slice the bulb into thin wedges or slices. To grill or roast, halve the bulb vertically and you will see a triangular, hard core. Using a small, sharp knife, cut out most of the core, leaving enough to keep the layers attached while cooking.
When buying fennel, you may see it sold by its Italian name, finocchio. Look for bulbs that have firm stalks, bright green fronds and no discoloration.
Fennel pairs well with many vegetables and fruits. A salad made with fennel and oranges, peppery arugula, red onion and black olives is refreshing and flavorful.
Fennel and Orange Salad - Makes 4 servings.
1 large fennel bulb
1 bunch arugula, rinsed and dried
1 large navel orange, peel and white pith removed, cut into thin rounds
4 slices red onion, sliced paper thin
2 oil-cured black olives, finely sliced
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. orange juice
1/2 Tbsp. fresh orange zest
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Cut away feathery tops of fennel at base of round stalks and discard. Slice off bottom of bulb, remove the tough outer layer and discard both. Cut bulb in half vertically. Using a very sharp knife, cut each half crosswise into very thin slices.
Make a bed of arugula on each of 4 salad plates. Arrange one-fourth of the orange slices over the arugula. Arrange slices of fennel over orange slices. Arrange onion slices over fennel. Add olives.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. In a small bowl, whisk oil with orange juice and zest. Drizzle dressing over each salad. Serve immediately.
Per serving: 85 calories, 4 g. total fat (less than 1 g. saturated fat), 13 g. carbohydrate, 1 g. protein, 3 g. dietary fiber, 51 mg. sodium.
AICR offers a Nutrition Hotline (1-800-843-8114). Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET, Monday-Friday, this free service allows you to ask a registered dietitian questions about diet, nutrition and cancer. The American Institute for Cancer Research is the only major cancer charity focusing exclusively on the link between diet, nutrition and cancer. The Institute provides a wide range of education programs that help millions of Americans learn to make changes for lower cancer risk. AICR also supports innovative research in cancer prevention and treatment at universities, hospitals and research centers across the U.S. The Institute has provided more than $82 million in funding for research in diet, nutrition and cancer. AICR's Web address is www.aicr.org.