This week we have some delicious baby fennel pods from Tahoma farms here in Washington. Fennel is a fun little plant with a strong and unique flavor that forms an important part of several different culinary traditions from around the world. The first thing a novice fennel-taster will notice is the smell and taste of licorice. This aroma comes from the organic compound anethole, a fragrant liquid that forms a part of the essential oils of fennel, anise, star anise, and licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra). Anethole is the primary flavor component of anise-flavored liqueurs like Sambuca, raki, absinthe, and ouzo. Fennel tends to have a slightly milder anethole flavor compared to anise or star anise, which makes it easier to cook with. While fennel is often mislabeled as “anise” in many American stores, the two plants are actually distinctly different– fennel has a large white bulb at the base with thick green stalks growing up, while anise is more like a flower, with a skinny stalk and delicate petals.
In India, fennel seeds are eaten raw or coated in sugar as an after-dinner digestive or to sweeten the breath. These flavorful snacks, reminiscent of after-dinner mints in the US and Europe, are known as mukhwas. The ground seed powder is also used as a spice in Indian, Kashmiri, Pakistani, and Iranian cookery. The traditional use of fennel also extends westward to the Mediterranean, where Syrian and Lebanese cooks use it in an egg omelette called ijjeh. Fennel is also the primary ingredient in the Italian sausage you use in your spaghetti.
Ahead of next week’s box, here’s a fun recipe from Ina Garten at the Food Network for Roasted Fennel with Parmesan.
Enjoy the harvest!