Fennel: the Licorice Onion

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t even sure what I was looking for. I had a soup recipe that called for Fennel, and fingers crossed that Trader Joe’s actually carried it (valid concern; their produce section can be randomly selective). I had a hunch it was something similar to an onion, or maybe it was lettuce? Leeks-ish?


Luckily there was a noticeable sign pointing to the plastic case that housed two “Fresh Fennel!” bulbs.

Gracias, TJ’s. 100 points to you for shopping-made-easy!

TJs Fennel bulbs

According to the TJ’s Flyer, this vegetable has been around for quite some time (haven’t they all?…), and “can be eaten raw, cooked and served as a side dish, or added to recipes to impart abundant flavor.”

It also happened to be featured in the latest issue of Runner’s World (Feb 2012), as an “Alternate* Side” – a vegetable that may not always be front-of-mind when we think of ingredients & meals, so it brings variety to the table.

*to the ‘norms’ – potatoes, onions, celery, etc.

It’s an unusual kitchen companion; the top leaves resemble the herb, dill, the short stalk is leek-like, and the bottom ‘bulb’ might be the onion’s fraternal twin. It has a licorice aroma (odd connection to make with a vegetable); RW called it “extra-terrestrial looking”. I can see that.

fennel bulbfennel leaves

It’s a good source of Fiber, Vitamin C & Potassium, and also houses 5-10% of our daily needs for iron, magnesium, calcium, folate and manganese.

Now, what do we do with this bi-colored, leafy, licorice bulb?

RW suggests serving it raw in a salad; slicing the bulb very thinly (discarding the stalk and leaves), and letting the slices soak in lemon water for 20 minutes.

Eat, Live, Run chops the bulb and sautés it as part of her Tortellini & Heirloom Bean Soup recipe (which my kitchen tested and approves!).

ELR Tortellini and Heirloom Bean Soup

WHF recommends either braising it and serving with scallops or salmon*, slicing thinly & topping with yogurt and mint, or adding slices to a sandwich for a new flavor & crunch.

*Pan-roasted Salmon & fresh fennel – a la Real Simple

EatingWell.com goes with the roasting route, to “carmelize and soften”, adding it to a farro salad.


A quick “fennel” search will give you a long list of options, these were just a few that stood out to me & were quickly added to my growing “to-make’ list.

Save an onion, and add this veggie to your next grocery bag – let me know what you think! If you decide to use the leaves somehow, I’m all-ears…

Are you a fennel fan? What’s your favorite way to chop & serve it?



Filed under food, groceries, new things!, Nutrition, recipes

16 responses to “Fennel: the Licorice Onion

  1. I had to do a report on fennel for my food science class back in grad school. 🙂 I like the bulb (caramelized or roasted), but the fronds themselves are too licorice-y for me! 😉

  2. Honestly, I’m kind of turned off by the licorice smell.

    That soup, however, looks delicious, and might be worth a shot.

  3. So did it taste like licorice? I hate the taste of licorice so I’m wondering if that comes through in the soup/salad/etc.

    • Heather C

      I didn’t get a licorice taste at all, but I assume if you eat it raw, or not totally masked in a soup, you might get more flavor. 🙂

  4. I love the fresh smell, but I have to admit, because it is so potent to me I can only have a little. I like it sliced raw over soup or made into a vinegrette.

  5. Fennel reminds me of my Nonna. She used to give it to us after dinner as a palate cleanser (little did I know that as a kid, mind you!) and we loved it. We called it “yucky celery” but even if we called it “yucky” we apparently loved it because we’d gobble it right up. Weird right?? Either way, it’s a happy memory for me..may she rest in peace. ❤

  6. what the…do what….put it in….wait….what?? I don’t know, that’s not from this planet.

  7. My favorite fennel preparation is roasted with a splash of balsamic vinegar but there is a great Cooking Light (or is it Eating Well) recipe that has shaved fennel, avocado, and shaved Parmesan. It is to die for…

  8. great tips! i’m definitely intrigued. our house loves onions so this will be a nice change up!

  9. I’ve only tried fennel a few times, usually as some part of a saute, and only because it was given to us in our CSA share. 🙂 But I like the subtle flavor… thanks for the reminder to use it, I tend to get in a veggie rut.

  10. I should reintroduce myself to it. The first time I tried it, it was part of a ‘salmon in a pouch’ with lots of root vegetable. The leek part really stood out and I don’t think it was a good pair, turning me off to it. Jasmines suggestion sounds awesome!!!

  11. Fennel, the poor forgotten onion. I wouldn’t go picking it up at the market, but wouldn’t pick it out of my soup. I like what you’ve done. Bold flavors!!

  12. Fennel is literally my favorite vegetable ever. I have to stop myself from buying 3 bulbs a week because it is so expensive. I was once at a super duper fancy restaurant with a tasting menu, and I am a vegetarian, and the chef was going to fix me something special for the meat course. One of the waiters overheard me tell a friend that I loved fennel, and my “meat” course dish ended up being grilled fennel steaks. They were amazing, and something I have tried to recreate at home. Mmmm…so yummy!

  13. Pingback: Sauté: Pile the Pizza | Dietitian on the Run

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