Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Food of the Week: Fennel

I adore fennel. It is fresh and bright, but after cooking takes on a comforting earthy quality that is perfect for the sub-zero temperature in Minnesota in early January.

“I hate fennel,” said my father. “It tastes like licorice!” And he’s right— licorice, anise and fennel all share a compound called anethole, which happens to be extremely good for you. Anethole reduces inflammation, and protects against cancer. Quite a tricky little compound! By shutting down a process called tumor necorosis, cancer contaminated cells cannot communicate among themselves, thus inhibiting their devious activity.

Anethol has yet another wonderful property, one especially near and dear to the hearts of college students, and New Year’s Eve partiers everywhere. The compound has been shown to protect the liver from toxic chemical damage. This means alcohol, so eat up you party animals!

Fennel is a great source of folate, potassium and fiber. We all know fiber keeps us “regular” and our arteries clean, but folate and potassium? Folate jump starts red blood cell production and supports the nervous system. Potassium can lower blood pressure, as well as maintain good muscle and nerve health

The coolest part about fennel is its history. The first name of the bulbous veggie was “marathon” because it was discovered in the ancient battle field. The ancient Greeks tell the tales that Prometheus stole

knowledge in the form of a fiery coal from the gods by concealing it in a fennel stalk. He was subsequently punished by having his liver eaten by an eagle. Maybe if he had eaten the fennel instead, the anthole might have helped him!!

After I began to experiemnt with the white layers of the fennel bulb, my father realized that it is quite a treat. Personally, I’ll eat fennel with anything, but it is particularly wonderful in a soup, such as Fennel-Potato with Smoked Salmon. The fennel mellows as it is cooked, the molecular structure breaks down releasing its natural sugars which marries harmoniously with the salty salmon garnish. Might i suggest a piece of rye toast and a bit of cheddar cheese on the side?

Try this aromatic recipe to fill your kitchen with flavor: Braised Pork with Fennel and Orange.

If you don’t like licorice, it doesn’t mean you won’t like fennel. Sautee it in butter, add it to a salad with avocado, garnish it up with some mint!

Give this bad boy a try. He packs a punch.

For more information on Fennel, click here.

Fennel link on YouTube: