For most of my life, I was a fennel-phobe.
It’s true: I’d take one whiff of that bulbous, long-stemmed veggie with its filigree of swaying fronds on top—the one that’s so common in Italian cuisine–and immediately think, “licorice.” And in my world at the time, the only licorice to pass my lips was Crayola red, twisty, unnaturally shiny and almost entirely composed of sugar (with perhaps a little high-fructose corn syrup tossed in as a bonus). Once, back in my twenties, a friend cooked up a fennel stew at a dinner party, and it left such a bad taste in my mouth that I vowed to avoid it for the rest of my life, sort of like the boyfriend who cheated on me with his ex.
Fast forward a few decades to the present. These days, I seek out (and even enjoy) entirely sugar-free sweet treats, as well as every type of fresh vegetable imaginable. After much debate, I decided to I’d give fennel another try. This time, I vowed to do it right.
All of my research led to the inevitable conclusion: fennel is good for you (unlike that cheating boyfriend). This relative of parsley, carrots and dill is low-calorie (one cup of the bulb is only 27 calories and has almost no fat), high-fiber and bursting with Vitamin C, potassium, folate, manganese, calcium and more. It even provides a modicum of protein (about 2% of your daily needs in one serving). Among its many antioxidant properties, the most interesting belongs to anethole, a compound that helps reduce inflammation and prevents cancer.
So how to get over my fear of fennel? I thought back to other foods that had challenged me, like collards or parsnip, both of which I now adore. The secret? Eat them raw.
I found a recipe for a great fennel salad; chopped, washed, prepped and dressed—and voilà—I was smitten! With bits of crisp, crunchy, sweet veggie to woo me, I was easily converted to a fennel fan. If you’ve been wary of this less-than-common vegetable, try it raw first, and see how you like it.
With my love now ignited, I’m even thinking about venturing into cooked fennel territory next time.
Here are some fennel-based recipes to get you started: