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On weeknights, I always cook for four. That way there are leftovers for two and I don’t have to think about what to take to work for lunch. Occasionally though dinner only serves three and in the morning I have to get my brain into gear to come up with something tasty for lunch. It helps that the only food-joint in walking distance from my work is Subway. (shudder!)

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And so I found myself last Wednesday morning staring into the vegie draw. Lets be frank.. it was looking a little sad. Half a fennel & a zucchini caught my eye, and there was some left over millet from earlier in the week. I grabbed some fresh greens from the garden and a few goods from the pantry and I was on my way.

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Fennel. Its a beautiful looking vegetable. But I find most people either don’t know what to do with it or find its aniseed/liquorice flavour too strong. I myself found it a little intimidating until 12 months ago when I opened the Kitchen Garden Companion and found a recipe for braised fennel. Now I’m a convert. Raw, braised, anything in-between and you’ve got me.

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How do you know a good fennel from a bad one…? It goes without saying, buy in season – that’s Autumn through to early spring. The bulb should be white or pale green and have a fragrance of anise or liquorice. Don’t be afraid to give it a sniff. You can eat the whole plant: seeds, bulb, stems and fronds. Ideally the stems and fronds will still be attached, crisp & firm. No one wants a floppy fennel. Keep them in the vegie crisper and use it within a week. Fennel seeds should be stored in a cool dark place, in an airtight container for up to six months.

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The healthy bits… Fennel is full of Vitamin C, potassium & dietary fiber. Its also got bits of phosphorous, folic acid, magnesium, manganese, iron, calcium and molybdenum (remember that last one helps with the wine hangovers). Therapeutically it has been referred to as an antispasmodic, a carminative and an anodyne.* It plain english that means it eases stomach cramps, pain & gas. The reason for its strong flavour, anethole has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Yah!

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Prepping & sharing… Trim off the base and if the outer layer is tough, remove that too. If the recipe calls for slices – cut through vertically. If it calls for diced or chopped, cut it in half, remove the hard core and then dice away. When used raw the aniseed flavour is strong. If you want to soften and sweeten the flavour then cook it. It can be grilled, sauteed, stir-fried, roasted or baked but the best and easiest method I’ve found is a gentle braise on the stove top. Add a little oil to a pot on a low heat, throw in the fennel and cover for 10 minutes. Its ready when the fennel has softened. The stems are good in stocks or stews, the fronds in herb dressings, and the seeds will give a punch of flavour to curries, stews, breads, salads & even pizza. Flavour wise fennel pairs well with seafood, citrus or stone fruits, olives and even hard cheeses such as parmesan & pecorino.

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Fennel, Zucchini & Millet salad w lemon cider dressing
Serves 4 as a light meal

Ingredients
1 tbsp coconut oil
1/2 cup of millet
One bunch of rocket/arugula
2 fennels – cut vertically
2 nectarines – sliced
2 zucchini – grated
Sprig of rosemary – chopped finely
10 chive leaves – chopped finely
1/2 cup of pecans
Sprinkling of chia seeds

Dressing
1/2 lemon – juice
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tbsp apple cidar vinegar
1/4 tsp sweetner (honey/agave/mayple syrup/brown rice syrup)

Method
1. In a pot on a medium heat, warm the coconut oil. Add the millet and cook for one minute, stirring regularly. It should give off a nutty fragrance. Add 1 cup of water, (careful, it will splutter) bring to the boil and then reduce to low heat. Cover and leave for 20 minutes or until all the water is absorbed. Watch it carefully while you prep the salad – It helps if the lid is see-through. When all the water is absorbed and the seeds have softened its ready. Rinse it under cold water to cool and let it drain well – if its too wet the rocket will wilt too much.
2. Prepare the dressing by mixing together all ingredients.
3. Prep all the salad ingredients as described. To throw it all together, first add the rocket and millet and mix. Then add the fennel, nectarine and zucchini. Finally sprinkle on the herbs, pecans & chia seeds, and pour over the dressing.

NB: The millet can be cooked days ahead – I actually think it works well if the millet has had time to dry out in the fridge. The salad can be made ahead of time, perhaps the morning of, and at a stretch the day before. Just mix some of the lemon juice for the dressing through the salad to preserve the fennel & zucchini and don’t add the leaves or remainder of the dressing until just before serving.

Variations
Raw food – leave out the millet. Would work well as a side but perhaps not a main.

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Curious about how else to use fennel? Try these great posts!

Pasta with Fennel, Arugula & Lemon
Leak, fennel, apple & walnut soup with tumeric
Braised Fennel with Safrom & Tomato

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