Recently I have come across a steady supply of good quality fennel at my local supermarket. This is not a vegetable always easy to find outside its native Mediterranean area, even when it is in season. I love the slightly caramelised taste of oven baked fennel but this is not a love shared by my other half, who prefers to have it raw. Unlike its sweet tasting cousin, the carrot, raw fennel has a taste reminiscent of anise or licorice which can put some people off.
Aside from being in plentiful supply, why my sudden love for fennel? I hear you ask. Fennel is a great vegetable to add to your arsenal of vegetables to cook with due to its unique nutritional properties.
The nutritional properties of fennel
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Nutrient Database a large raw fennel bulb (approx. 230gm) contains approximately:
- 73 kcals
- 0.5 g of fat
- 3 g of protein
- 17 g of carbohydrates
- 7.5 g of dietary fibre
It also provides roughly 360 mg of potassium, 45mg of sodium, 838 IU of vitamin A, 43mg of calcium, 10.5 mg of vitamin C, 0.65 mg of iron, 0.05 mg of vitamin B5 and 15mg of magnesium. Fennel also provides a range of other minerals as well as being a natural source of oestrogen (which might come in useful if you are menopausal or post menopausal).
The health benefits of fennel
According to Medical News Today, fennel has a host of health benefits: it can help reduce blood pressure; it is good for building bones and collagen; it promotes heart health; it can help menopausal women increase their natural oestrogen intake; it can help increase immunity, fight inflammation and help with digestion; it helps to reduce bloating and gas, and promote regularity, among others. It is also a diuretic which means it is good for detoxing and weightloss (yes, it is low in calories, too!).
Who should avoid fennel
However, some people can have severe allergic reactions to fennel and fennel seeds, especially if they are allergic to carrots, mugwort, celery or caraway seeds. It is also very high in sodium, therefore it is not advisable for people on heart medications (beta-blockers already raise potassium levels), or for women with oestrogen-sensitive conditions such as breast cancer, uterine fibroids or endometriosis. Also worth noting is that fennel may prevent blood clotting which may cause bruising or bleeding in people with certain conditions.
Obviously, aside from the severe allergic reactions, all of the above apply to large doses taken at once, adding a few grams of fennel or fennel seeds to your salad once in a while is unlikely to have a significant effect on your health.
Cooking with fennel
In an effort to introduce a more varied diet, especially of the vegetable sort, I decided it was time to test a recipe that would suit most palates. Based on the premise that my other half would not scorn a bowl of fennel soup, I decided to venture into a new culinary unknown, to me at least.
Truth be told, I was underwhelmed at the idea of cooking it in soup, but how can you say no when you haven’t even tried it once in your life? I was pleasantly surprised although, I did end up making more than my usual portions which resulted in me having fennel soup for several consecutive days.
The recipe below is enough for about 6 to 8 bowls. I cannot say whether it would freeze well as I did not think to try.
Pureed fennel soup
1 yellow onion
3 small shallots
2 medium fennel bulbs
1 red apple
1 tbsp fennel seeds
1lt vegetable stock
½ tsp dried thyme
1. Soak the fennel bulbs in a mixture of bicarbonate and water for a few minutes. Then drain and pat dry before cutting. Remove the hard core and dice into small pieces. Chop the rest of the fennel into small cubes and reserve some of the green fronds as garnish.
2. Soak the apple in the bicarbonate mixture for at least 10 minutes. Do not chop until the last moment so that it does not begin browning before it starts to cook. I left the skin on but you may peel it off especially if your apple is not organic.
3. Peel and finely chop the onion and shallots. Set aside.
4. In a mortar, roughly crush the fennel seeds.
5. Prepare a light vegetable stock (approximately 1 litre). Alternatively, you could simply use enough hot water to cover the fennel and add salt. I found the stock tends to cover up the taste and I prefer to taste the fennel itself.
6. In a large pot, heat the olive oil and then saute’ the onions and shallots until translucent. Add the fennel and cook until it begins to soften and caramelise – this will make it taste sweeter. If necessary, add a little water to prevent it from sticking.
7. Next, add the apple, crushed fennel seeds, thyme and salt to the pot. Cover with hot water or the light vegetable stock and cook for approximately 30 minutes until the fennel has softened enough to puree to a smooth consistency.
8. Remove from the heat and let it cool down a few minutes. Transfer into a blender and whizz until smooth. Serve hot with the (chopped) green fronds as garnish and a sprinkle of olive oil.
Soups are a great way to add vegetables to your diet whilst keeping the calorie count low.