Fennel: an ornamental, culinary and medicinal treasure!

Fennel is a beautiful plant. It is composed of a white bulb from which closely superimposed stalks with stout stems and bright green, feathery leaves flourish up 4-5 feet high. This graceful and naturally ornamental plant is also a very versatile ingredient in the kitchen as the bulb, stalk, leaves and seeds are all edible. It is closely related to parsley, carrots, dill and coriander and plays an especially important role in European cuisine, particularly in French and Italian. Fennel's aromatic taste is unique, strikingly reminiscent of liquorice and anise. Its texture is similar to that of celery, having a crunchy and striated texture.

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History

Ever since ancient times, fennel has enjoyed a rich history. The ancient Greeks had several myths about the plant, including one that tells of how knowledge was delivered to man by the gods at Olympus in a fennel stalk filled with coal. Fennel was revered by the Greeks and the Romans for its medicinal and culinary properties. It has been grown throughout Europe, especially areas surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, and the Near East since ancient times.

Storage:

Store fennel in the refrigerator crisper, where it should keep fresh for about four days. Yet, it is best to consume fennel soon after purchase since as it ages, it tends to gradually lose its flavor. While fresh fennel can be frozen after first being blanched, it won’t taste as rich. Dried fennel seeds should be stored in an airtight container in a cool and dry location where they will keep for about six months.

Preparation

The three different parts of fennel—the base, stalks and leaves—can all be used in cooking. Cut the stalks away from the bulb at the place where they meet. If you are not going to be using the intact bulb in a recipe, then first cut it in half, remove the base, and then rinse it with water before proceeding to cut it further. Fennel can be cut in a variety of sizes and shapes, depending upon the recipe and your personal preference. The best way to slice it is to do so vertically through the bulb. If your recipe requires chunked, diced or julienned fennel, it is best to first remove the harder core that resides in the center before cutting it. The stalks of the fennel can be used for soups, stocks and stews, while the leaves can be used as an herb seasoning.

Here are some ideas:

Sautéed fennel and onions make a wonderful side dish.

Combine sliced fennel with avocados, and oranges for a delightful salad.

Scallops are excellent complimented by braised fennel.

Make sandwiches special, adding sliced fennel along with lettuce and tomato.

Top thinly sliced fennel with plain yogurt and mint leaves.

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Link for Roasted Fennel and Baby Carrots here: http://bit.ly/1E2hcIs ... (rosemary would be a great substitute for the fennel seeds!)

Medicinal Use

Fennel tastes great and it also has medicinal benefits that include reducing gas discomfort, cramps and bloating. It can alleviate nausea, upset stomach and has been known to help respiratory problems.

For symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, like a gas-bloated belly, fennel tea aids in both prevention and relief by gently stimulating the gastrointestinal system. Just boil the leaves for a tea. Feel free to add other ingredients, honey, lime and mint leaves are good compliments.

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