The black licorice of the vegetable kingdom—both in taste and popularity—fennel finds new fans this fall. —Stefanie Gans
Along with dandelion and ginger, fennel seeds contribute to the soothing qualities of SubHerban Roots’ digestive bitters. The blend, most of which is harvested in herbalist Beth Hall’s Warrenton backyard, steeps in a mixture of grain alcohol and distilled water for a month before the greens are strained.
A teaspoon of the elixir activates salivary glands and aids in digestion, and the fennel, says Hall, alleviates bloating and adds that signature licorice flavor.
Rhodeside Grille bartender Paul Taylor has another idea: add a few drops to your bloody mary.
“Pickled fennel is actually more approachable for people that don’t like fennel in the first place,” says Nevin Martell, co-author of “The Founding Farmers Cookbook.”
Included is a recipe for pickled fennel, incorporating both the vegetable and its seed, but, says Martell, “the acidic components and all of the spicing components replace some of that licorice flavor that is a turn-off for some people.”
Martell suggests adding pickled fennel to sausages, in lieu of slaw, and on salads and burgers like they do at Founding Farmers Restaurant, which is expected to open a location in Tysons Corner next month.
The Right Cut
If you can get past fennel’s anise taste, this bulbous member of the carrot family is versatile and can change textures with a slice of the knife.
If cut into long strands, fennel will better retain its crunch when sauteed, says Patrick Dinh, the longtime chef at Tuscarora Mill in Leesburg. He shows off this method in a simple dish with seared cod and potatoes. Slit across the grain, fennel will break down more quickly and turn silky in the pain. If using raw in salads, Dinh recommends cutting fennel widthwise, limiting its potential for stringiness.