Fennel is a versatile vegetable in that you can eat it in a variety of different ways and still have it add something positive to whatever dish you are preparing. Fennel works roasted in the oven, sauteed in olive oil, braised in virtually any flavorful liquid or eaten raw. When it is cooked, the stalks soften and taste mellows. When you eat it raw, the taste is unmistakable.
A Distinctive Taste
When you buy fennel at the grocery store, it has a round bulb as a base, with little stalks shooting up like fingers. It also has small, feathery leaves attached to the stalks. The entire plant is edible, and when you eat it raw, the taste is reminiscent of black licorice. You may perhaps mistake sliced raw fennel for celery when you see it, but once you bite into it and taste the crisp, licorice flavor, all doubts will be gone.
With fennel, you can just wash it off and start eating, if that is your preference. But you will likely appreciate the taste more when it is spread out and added in with other tastes and textures. Adding thin slices or strips of raw fennel to green salads with various fruits, nuts and onions is a good way to use it raw. If you really enjoy the taste, you can cut up the entire bulb into strips and slices and circles and just munch on it raw like you would baby carrots or celery.
When fennel starts to dry out, it loses its signature crunch. Storing it correctly can help prevent this. After cutting fresh fennel, wrap it in some damp paper towel before you put it in a plastic produce bag and put it in the fridge and it will stay fresh and moist for up to four days. Leave it in the vegetable drawer of the fridge with other vegetables and it will do just fine.
Whether you are picking it from the garden or the store, try to bring home smaller fennel bulbs because they're more tender. The fennel bulb should feel a little heavier than it looks and the color should be mostly white with no obvious marks or blemishes. Look for feathery green leaves that are bright and haven't started yellowing. A healthy, quality fennel bulb will make for the tastiest raw fennel in your salad or for a snack.
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