March 9, 2012

Crisp Fennel Salad

For years I never used fennel. Or really even knew what to do with it. Then I found a recipe for a Roasted Beet and Fennel Salad that became a real favorite -- soft and sweet, but with body and depth of flavor that I love. This post is about what I learned to do with fennel next: serve it raw to let its satisfying crunch and anise flavors really shine.

Both of the salads below come together so quickly that you can easily bring either to the table any night of the week. Both also have enough fresh snap to serve as side dishes for heavier more complicated meals, like Thanksgiving, when guests appreciate a light palate cleanser to keep it all in perspective.

Fennel Celery Salad
2 fennel bulbs
3 ribs of celery
1/4 Cup olive oil
juice of one lemon

Use a mandolin or food processor to thinly slice two whole fennel bulbs cut into quarters. Slice celery equally thin. Dress with oil and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Variations: My original inspiration was a recipe that called for topping this dish with freshly shaved Parmesan and reserved fennel fronds. Add them if you like. I usually leave them out. Why? The salad tastes great without the cheese and I don't really love the mouth-feel of the fronds as much as I love the texture of the vegetable slices. And there is something visually pleasing about the symmetry of the fennel and onion crescents alone in the dressing without ornament.

Apple Fennel Salad
2-3 fennel bulbs
1 or 2 Granny Smith apples (leave the peel on)

Use a sharp knife to slice fennel bulbs crosswise somewhat thickly to create rings or crescents. Halve the apple, pare out the core, leave on the skin. Slice the halves.

Dress with a mustard vinaigrette made by whisking together 3 parts canola oil, 1 part white wine or cider vinegar and a spoonful of good mustard. Add salt if you want. I usually don't. The mustard and vinegar make it astringent enough and we already have enough sodium in our diets without adding it here. You can use red wine vinegar and it will taste equally good, but will color the apple. This dish looks lovely and green at the table if you use a pale vinegar.

Other combinations:
Radish, red onion, and even jicama work well sliced with fennel. Use your imagination, or whatever you've got in the fridge that's fresh and crunchy, and be pleasantly surprised.

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