Fennel is from the carrot family but it is not a root vegetable–it is a herb. The bright pale green fronds, feathery and aromatic, are full of flavor. They taste like anise, only much milder.
Fennel seeds (saunf, vadiyari) are widely used in Indian cooking and as a “mouth freshener” after a meal–you will see a bowl at the door of most Indian restaurants. Munching on a spoonful after a meal not only freshens the mouth of strong spices but also helps with digestion.
The gorgeous pale green bulb is low in calories, has no carbs, and is full of nutrition and fiber. And it is delicious and economical at well under $10 for four people (I can buy two bulbs for around $3 and sometimes for $2). Italians use fennel in salads, sauces, soups, and in umpteen different ways.
Here we have one of our family favorite soups. Our soups are very simple for the most part. Like the cream of mushroom soup, this recipe is mainly fresh fennel. There is no gluten or cream even though it is a creamy soup. No need to make cashew cream. Just dump the cashew pieces (much cheaper than whole cashews and they are going to be pureed anyway) in the pot with the fennel. A filling soup but not heavy, it has a smooth, creamy texture. Make it as thick or thin as you like. Our family likes it almost bisque-like–a little thinner than a bisque. Eliminate the small amount of potato and this four ingredient soup becomes three ingredient and Jain–nothing is lost in flavor.
I peel the thick and tough outer layer with a sharp paring knife instead of throwing it away. Slice the fennel at the top just below the stems but use the tender stems and mince all the fronds to use in the soup and to garnish if you wish. Then quarter each bulb, remove the tough, hard core, and slice with a sharp knife.
The soup keeps well for several days in the fridge, freezes well, and is good hot or chilled. And it has fewer than five ingredients, not counting staples like salt, pepper, and oil.
- 2 teaspoons olive oil or a neutral oil of your choice
- 1/2 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 small yellow potato peeled and cubed (optional)
- 4 cups thinly sliced peeled and cored fennel (2 medium bulbs)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup raw cashew pieces
- 2-3 cups water
- drizzle of olive oil
- Heat oil in a heavy bottomed pot. Add the fennel seeds and black pepper. After 30 seconds on medium heat, add the potatoes. Toss everything, cover and cook for on medium-low heat for 5 minutes.
- Add the fennel, salt, cashews and half a cup of water. Stir, cover, and cook for 10 to 15 minutes till the fennel and potato are soft and tender. Add the fronds and minced tender stems. Save some fronds for garnish, if you like and remember!
- Whir it all together with two cups of water in a food processor or blender till it is very smooth. Drizzle in olive oil to taste (for us a tablespoon is plenty) and blend for another few seconds til the oil works itself in.
- Heat it back in the pot. Serve.
Serves 4. Preparation time: 10 minutes. Cooking and blending: 25-30 minutes.