Foodie Friday: Using Fennel Flowers, Stems and Fronds
One of the best things about gardening is being able to use unusual ingredients that you never see in the store (or even in restaurants)! One item I grow where you can truly use so much of the plant is fennel.
This was my first year growing fennel. We had incredibly dry weather, which, with our drip irrigation, the fennel loved. Then, over the last four weeks, we’ve been deluged. This is when I should have picked the fennel, because it immediately began to bolt (flower) and the bulb began to rot. I completely missed my window – or so I thought…
I joke that I only function when the weather is between 72 and 78 degrees. This is … not really a joke at all. So, I hadn’t paid enough attention to my garden when it was raining, 85+ degrees every day and 90% humidity. I couldn’t take more than 10 minutes outside at a time. Once I noticed that the fennel bulbs were goners, I was definitely upset at myself. In a bit of desperation, I tried nibbling some of the flowers. And – they were pretty amazing! Sweet, tangy, light. I tried some stem. Even better! Tender, great anise/licorice taste, much more potent than the flowers. The leaves were lighter, but much more plentiful than anything else – they tasted like if dill met licorice.
Then I frantically Googled to see if fennel flowers, leaves and stems are poisonous (next time – Google first, eat second). LUCKILY the entire fennel plant is completely edible. AND DELICIOUS.
So, if you’re looking to turn around a loss into a gourmet experience, or just want to try something new in the garden, I recommend using the whole fennel plant. Note that only the stem closest to the flower is tender and can be eaten raw. Slicing the stems thin really brings out the taste and makes them very easy to eat, and I really think they’re best this way. As you move further down the plant, you can keep the stiff stalks with leaves on to use in roasting, stocks and marinating.
ALSO – fennel leaves and stalks freeze really well! The flowers and tender part of the stem, not so much.
Here are a couple of ways I’ve found to use these stems and flowers:
- Garnish a salad on a plate with a large flower. Beautiful!
- Sprinkle the flowers on vanilla ice cream.
- Garnish a G&T, or any licorice or cucumber cocktail with flowers.
- Mix into any light salad (cucumbers and yogurt, for example, not kale and tomatoes).
- A classic summer salad is cucumber mixed with Greek yogurt, lemon juice and mint. I replaced the mint with finely-sliced stem and chopped fennel leaves. Fantastic.
- Slice and sprinkle on white fish after grilling.
- Slice thin and sprinkle raw on eggs (prepared any style).
- Use a bunch as a seasoning in fresh-pack pickles.
- Chop and mix as an alternative to dill in a oil-based potato salad.
- Put a bunch in aluminum foil with fish to infuse the fish.
- Boil with chicken stock to sweeten it.
Always nice when you can turn negligence (oops) into something great! I think I’m even going to let one of the plants go to seed and try drying the seeds for seasoning …