Fennel Seed Takes a Ho-Hum Dish to “WOW!”

Fennel seed (part of the parsley family and popular in Middle East cooking), is usually paired with more savory foods. For instance, I like to add them to my best tuna casserole recipe—they add a flavor punch that takes a ho-hum dish to “Wow!”

They are small and brown-green in color and have a licorice flavor and aroma that does things to food no other seed can. Fennel seeds are in season and most flavorful in late summer—so that’s a great time to give them a try because it’s easiest to find them fresh. But don’t wait for late summer—start experimenting with them now.

Toasting them adds a little extra zip. Their oils are released this way, which enhances their natural anise-like flavor.

To toast, place the seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat. Cook 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Watch them carefully so they don’t burn. There will be little color change, but you’ll know they’re done when they become very fragrant.

This seed is wonderful in Italian dishes. Try sprinkling them over a freshly baked pizza, for example. But you want to do so just before serving, to get the best flavor and texture. And if you make homemade rye bread, be sure to add fennel seeds for a more authentic flavor. And be sure to add them to your homemade lasagna recipe—while it’s hard to go wrong with most lasagna recipes, I’ve found that adding fennel seed to whatever recipe I’m using takes the flavor to a whole new level.

And this is a seed that lends itself well to creativity. Don’t be afraid to experiment—create an amazing veggie side dish by adding thinly sliced vegetables to a little olive oil in a pan. Lightly stir fry and when you’ve reached the texture you like, sprinkle fennel seed generously over the veggies and serve immediately. This is divine and you can mix and match ingredients to create all sorts of combinations.

Research shows fennel also has medicinal qualities. It’s used for various digestive problems including heartburn, intestinal gas, bloating, loss of appetite, and colic in infants. It is also used for upper respiratory tract infections, coughs, bronchitis, cholera, backache, and visual problems.

Some women use fennel to increase the flow of breast milk, promoting menstruation, and easing the birthing process.

If you keep your seeds in a tightly covered jar, in a cool dark place, they’ll stay fresh and vibrant for up to a year.

Here’s a scrumptious soup to get you started using more fennel seed. See if it doesn’t just hit the spot this winter!

Chicken and Escarole Soup with Fennel Seed

Serving size: 6
Calories per serving: 351


1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs cut into 1/2-inch cubes (or 2 to 3 cups leftover cooked chicken)
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 cups chopped onions
4 stalks celery chopped
4 cloves garlic chopped
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice
8 cups low-salt chicken broth
1 head escarole cut into wide strips
grated Pecorino Romano cheese

1. Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat.

2. Add chicken; sprinkle with salt, pepper and oregano.

3. Mix in onions, celery, garlic and fennel seeds. Sauté until vegetables begin to soften, about 4 minutes.

4. Stir in tomatoes. Add broth; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium; simmer until vegetables and chicken are tender, about 15 minutes.

5. Add escarole; simmer until wilted, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

6. Ladle into bowls. Serve, passing cheese separately.

Recipe formatted with the Cook'n Recipe Software from DVO Enterprises.

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    Alice Osborne
    DVO Newsletter Contributor since 2006
    Email the author! alice@dvo.com

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