Fennel is an aromatic, anise-flavoured plant (Foeniculum vulgare) with edible bulbs, stalks, leaves and seeds. The bulbs are a root vegetable while the stalks, leaves and seeds are used as herbs. Native to the Mediterranean, fennel is also cultivated in other parts of Europe, Russia, the United States and the Middle East. Fresh fennel bulbs, which may be eaten raw or cooked, are regarded as a spring vegetable in the UK, with locally grown fennel becoming available in supermarkets in March. They are high in fibre, potassium and Vitamin C, and are useful in treating anaemia, indigestion, flatulence, constipation, and menstrual disorders.
Tip: Select firm, unblemished fennel bulbs with fresh fronds; you can store the fresh fennel in a plastic bag in the fridge for up to five days. To prepare for cooking or serving, remove the stalks and fronds, reserving them for a garnish if desired. Slice off the flat base and peel the outermost layer or two from the bulbs. Wash, then slice into slivers for raw salads or cut into wedges for cooking.
Quick recipe: Offer some braised fennel with olives as a side dish. In a small pan, sauté two minced cloves of garlic and one chopped onion in some butter. Add ¾ cup chicken or vegetable broth and two tablespoons lemon juice, and bring to a simmer. Cut two large fennel bulbs into quarters; sauté them in a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil in a deep skillet, turning several times, until brown and caramelised. Add a handful of whole olives and the hot simmering broth. Cover and simmer for about 25 minutes, or until the liquids are reduced. Season with salt and pepper, garnish with chopped fennel fronds and serve, drizzling the braising liquids over the top.
Christine (Amina) Benlafquih writes on varied topics including religion, food, health and culture. You can find more of her writing on the web at Moroccan Food at About.com (http://moroccanfood.about.com).