I loved aniseed balls as a kid. I used to go up to the shop at the far end of Mayes Lane buy a “quater” or 4 oz of them and devour them within minutes. I could not get enough of that exotic aniseed flavour. At college I drank Pernod, thinking myself rather sophisticated, (hardly) and have also sampled Raki, Arak and Ouzo on my travels. I ended up with a pair of emerald earrings in Beirut after drinking Arak, but that’s a tale for another time! Aniseed is a flavour that I have always loved, hence my love of fennel as a vegetable.
Fennel (also known as Florence fennel or finocchio) is a delightfully crunchy and slightly sweet herb that has a bulb-like shape, making it look a little like a heavy-bottomed celery.
It has not yet been spread and naturalized as an herb around the world, but still primarily grows in coastal climates and on riverbanks.
While this fantastically flavourful herb is most commonly associated with Italian cooking, it is actually an extremely versatile ingredient. In fact the bulb, stalk, leaves and seeds are all edible and delicious.
Any part can be chopped raw and added into your favourite salads. When eaten raw like this, the texture is crisp and the flavour is quite assertive and aniseed-like. The leaves are delicately flavoured and similar in shape to those of dill. It truly is a delicious way to enhance the texture and flavour of a salad or coleslaw.
Cooked, it becomes much softer and has a more mellow flavour. The bulb makes an excellent addition to any mediterranean dishes. It’s also wonderful sautéed, stewed, braised or grilled. The leaves can also be used to liven up soups and sauces, or as a garnish.
Dried, fennel also makes for a sweet, calming tea, although that’s the one time, I am not keen on it.
Ideally choose the smaller, young bulbs, as they are more tender. They should look white, with no blemishes, and feel heavy for their size. The feathery green tops should be fresh and bright, with no yellowing.
Quick recipe tip – Pop some chopped fennel into an oven-proof dish, with some stock, cover and bake for 45 mins. Simple and delicious.
As well as being a pungent delight for the taste buds and tasty addition to any meal, Fennel has a number of amazing health benefits, including anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties.
The same high concentration of essential oils in fennel that gives it the aromatic fragrance and flavour, makes it an effective potential cure for many mild to moderate ailments.
- Since fennel is rich in iron and histidine, it serves as a good natural remedy for anemia
- Lactating mothers can consume fennel juice regularly to increase the secretion of nutritious milk for their infants
- The high amounts of vitamin C, flavonoids and essential oils in fennel bulb all provide synergistic healing properties for the prevention of cancer*
- The essential oils in fennel increases the secretion of digestive juices, helping in reduction of stomach inflammation and in the absorption of nutrients from the food eaten
- The sulphur content together with all the right amino acids and essential oils in fennel help strengthen hair
- The high potassium content in fennel helps reduce high blood pressure and thus decreasing the risk for heart attack and stroke
*with regard to the potential benefits that Fennel has regarding cancer and weight-loss, see this article I just came across – http://www.naturalnews.com/044051_fennel_cancer_treatment_weight_loss.html