This Simple, Lemony Starter is Perfect for Cold Weather
Produce crops have been hit hard by a cold snap in California and Arizona. Lettuces seem to be particularly affected. Here in St. Louis, lettuce prices have increased by a good 50%. So if you want a salad, maybe you should think outside the box (or the bin).
Luckily, other salad-friendly veggies are available. Like fennel, which reaches its peak in cold weather, and seems to be in good supply.
Fennel has a subtle anise-like flavor that adapts well to a range of dishes. For example, we recently featured it in our posts on Fennel Soup with Shrimp and Beans and Braised Fennel.
Though fennel is delicious when cooked, many people think it’s even better eaten raw. Dress it up with some extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice, and you’ve got a piquant salad that’s the perfect starter for a meal.
So forget about the lettuce shortage! When life hands you lemons, squeeze them and use the juice to dress this terrific salad.
Recipe: Shaved Fennel Salad
When eaten raw, I think fennel bulbs taste and look better if they’re shaved (sliced) thinly. I use a mandoline, but a vegetable slicer — which is basically the same thing — also works well. Or you can use a sharp knife, preferably one with a thin blade, although getting uniformly thin slices will be a bit of a challenge. BTW, a mandoline has an incredibly sharp blade (think razor blade), so be really careful when using it. I always use the guard that comes with it.
The dressing for this salad is essentially a vinaigrette made with lemon juice instead of vinegar. I toss the shaved fennel with oil, then add lemon juice and toss again, and finally add the seasonings. This method seems to coat the shaved fennel with less oil than is required when I mix up a vinaigrette (I talk more about this technique in my post on Spinach Salad with Parmesan.) But if you prefer, you can just whisk the oil, lemon juice, and seasonings together, and then toss with the fennel.
This recipe takes about 10 minutes to prepare, and serves 4. You can clean and slice the fennel several hours ahead of time and store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator, and then toss with the dressing just before serving. Leftovers don’t keep well, so make only what you need.
- 2 medium fennel bulbs (a bit over a pound)
- 1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ½ to 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- salt and black pepper to taste
- green fennel fronds for garnish (optional)
- Rinse off the fennel and remove the stalks and green tops. Roughly chop some of the green fuzzy fronds, and reserve them for garnish (optional). Using a sharp knife or vegetable peeler, slice off the root end of the bulb. Cut or peel off the outer part of the bulb if it’s tough. Cut the fennel bulb in half lengthwise.
- Using a mandoline or vegetable slicer, shave the fennel into paper thin slices (lengthwise). If you don’t have a mandoline or slicer, use a sharp knife and cut as thinly as possible.
- Place sliced fennel in a mixing bowl, then add extra virgin olive oil and toss until the fennel slices are thoroughly coated (start with a tablespoon of oil, adding more if needed.)
- Add ½ tablespoon of lemon juice and toss to thoroughly coat the fennel slices. Taste, and add more lemon juice if necessary (I find that a ratio of about 2:1 olive oil to lemon juice usually works best).
- Add salt and pepper to taste, then add parsley (if using) and toss just to incorporate all the ingredients.
- Plate, and serve with a garnish of fennel fronds or chopped parsley.
- You could probably substitute a good wine vinegar for the lemon juice. I’ve never tried it with this salad, but it sounds appetizing.
- Because you’ll definitely be tasting the flavor of the oil in this salad (as you do in most salads), you should use good quality extra virgin olive oil.
- Or you could substitute another lightly flavored oil, such as walnut oil.
- Fresh herbs or parsley make a good addition to this salad. I suggest a teaspoon or two of fresh thyme or dill, or 2 to 3 tablespoons of chopped parsley.
- I’ve seen similar fennel salads that include shaved Parmesan cheese or raw mushrooms. If you want a slightly more substantial salad, those ideas might be worth a try.
- Fennel combines well with seafood of any kind, with poultry, and with most meats (especially pork). It also plays well with highly seasoned cuisines, such as Chinese or Indian. So this salad is an ideal starter for a wide range of main courses.
- Fennel is called finocchio in Italian, fenouil in French, Fenchel in German, and hinojo in Spanish. But by any name, it’s good stuff.
“What a great salad!” Mrs. Kitchen Riffs enthused. “Such simple, clean flavor!”
“Yeah, I’m glad we finally got around to using more fennel,” I said. “As we discussed in our post on Braised Fennel, there are so many veggies that we rarely cook with, simply because we get in a rut. So every January or February, I like to pick a veggie that’s either new to us or rarely used, and learn new recipes for it. Kind of a New Year’s resolution, I guess.”
“That Braised Fennel was great,” said Mrs K R. “As was the Fennel Soup with Shrimp and Beans. What other fennel dishes are we doing?”
“I’m still trying to decide,” I admitted. “There are so many possibilities! But we’ll be doing a couple next week, including a great pasta dish with fennel and shrimp.”
“The shrimp dish is timely,” observed Mrs K R, “since many people eat more fish during Lent.”
“Right, today’s Ash Wednesday, so I figure that by next week, people will be looking for a new seafood dish to try,” I said. “That’s part of my high-level blogging strategy, you see.”
“Glad you’re sharpening your strategic skills,” said Mrs K R, with a grin. “Maybe you should work on martial arts next. With lettuce prices the way they are, we may need to dodge pitchforks in the produce department.”
That’s Mrs K R. Always practical.
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