Do you have any tastes or smells that bring you back to a distant (or maybe not so distant) memory of your childhood? I do, and for me one of these is the distinctly black licorice taste of fennel. I remember when I was growing up at the Albany Terrace house, my neighbor two doors down had a fennel plant that smelled very strongly of black licorice. I recall having developed the strange habit of picking stems off of the plant to chew on, much like eating sour grass but without the whole dog pee rumor. If you’ve ever had fennel, you’ve probably eaten the bulb and not the stem, the latter of which has a much stronger black licorice taste. A cross between cabbage and onion texturally and visually, fennel has a slightly sweet and refreshing taste to it. This bulbous vegetable is easily powerful enough to compete for the title of main ingredient in an entree yet delicate enough to compliment any protein as well. While the stems can serve mainly as a flavoring agent, the bulb is, in my opinion, far more versatile. It can be sliced thinly and eaten raw in salads, for example, or chopped coarsely and sauteed into entrees, soups, etc. There is really no limit to one’s experimentation with fennel.
This morning I decided it was about time to get my booty back in the kitchen, but what to make was at that time still a mystery. So many recipes to choose from, but what was I really in the mood for? Like a pregnant lady craves pickles, this winter weather has me constantly yearning for a hot and healthy soup. I’m still super diggin’ on those wintery greens but wanted to incorporate some new flavors and textures this time. After a bit of grocery store and internet browsing this is what I landed on:
Kale, Fennel and Sausage Soup
- Olive Oil
- Few cloves of garlic, minced
- About 2 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
- Half a white onion, chopped
- Half bulb of fennel, chopped
- 8-10 leaves of kale, stems removed and shredded
- A green fennel stems, minced
- Italian Sausages, spicy or sweet
- One can of black-eyed peas of similar bean
- Two cups of chicken broth
- Sea salt
- a touch of lemon juice/zest or apple cider vinegar
- Grated parm
In a large saucepan or dutch over, combine garlic, ginger, olive oil and 2 cups of water to a boil. Add onion and fennel and cook until soft, about ten minutes. Add kale,minced fennel stems, and sea salt. Stir until kale is wilted, then add chicken broth and a few cups of water. Bring to a boil and let simmer for up to an hour.
Meanwhile, saute whole sausages in separate saucepan until fully cooked (about ten minutes), adding water to prevent burning. Remove from heat, let cool and then slice and add to soup. Add black-eyed peas and lemon juice or vinegar (it’s important to add in small increments, as too much can ruin the flavor of the soup. The point here is to bring out the flavors, not mask them). Season to taste. Serve in bowl, adding a generous amount of grated parm on top.
And for now, a bonus recipe:
Having bought an entire bulb of fennel, I had time to experiment with the other half while the soup was simmering.
Staying true to the simple yet bold flavors of fennel itself, I chose to cut it into chunks and cook it in a pan with olive oil, some leftover minced garlic and ginger, salt and pepper, bay leaves, and lastly red pepper flakes for heat.
Adding water to the pan allows the fennel pieces to cook and steam at the same time (keeping the pan partially covered helps the steaming process), but once the water has burned off, continue to cook by frequently turning over each piece until fully caramelized on both sides.
Just like Lucia’s Kale Salad, the preparation is so simple and yet the flavors are so bold.
Fennel night: Success! Even my boyfriend, who doesn’t really like soups, greens or beans, enjoyed his bowl so much that he had a second…that is a big step for him, but more on Tim and his increasingly less picky eating habits later.
What I want to emphasize to you here is that fennel is really where it’s at people! This versatile veg is probably one of the most misunderstood; contrary to popular belief, it’s not a difficult ingredient to cook with at all. You can find it alongside oranges, in many varieties of sausages, or as an accompaniment to any fish entree. It goes well with many flavors, can be used in a variety of ways, and is rich in Vitamin A, calcium, phosphorus and potassium. Lastly if you are averse to the taste of black licorice, please don’t count fennel out. It may have hints of this flavor, but it is much more subtle and delicate than, say, star anise (strong black licorice flavored spice) and when cooked becomes even lighter than in the raw state. It is truly an ingredient not to be missed. As with kale, look for it in more of my future recipes.