Fennel is a flowering plant species that is in the carrot family. Indigenous to the Mediterranean, fennel is now grown in many parts of the world with dry soil, near seacoasts, and on riverbanks.
Fennel is highly aromatic and flavorful with culinary and medicinal uses. Florence Fennel (or Finocchio) is used as a vegetable and is one of the three main herbs used in preparation of absinthe, an alcoholic mixture that originated as a medicinal elixir in Switzerland and became, by the late 19th century, a popular alcoholic drink in France and other countries.
Fennel bulb, foliage, and seeds are used in many culinary traditions around the world. The small flowers of wild fennel (fennel pollen) are the most potent form of fennel and are also the most expensive. Dried fennel seeds are an aromatic, anise-flavored spice that are brown or green in color when fresh, and slowly turn a dull grey as the seeds age. Green seeds are the best for cooking. Fennel seeds are sometimes confused with anise, which are similar in taste and appearance, though smaller. Fennel seeds are the primary flavor component in Italian sausage.
Fennel leaves are delicately flavored and are similar, in shape, to those of dill. The bulb itself is a crisp vegetable that can be sautéed, stewed, braised, grilled, or eaten raw. Young tender leaves are used for garnishes, as a salad to add flavor to salads, to flavor sauces, in soups, and fish sauce. Fennel leaves are used in some parts of India as leafy green vegetables either by themselves or mixed with other vegetables. In Syria and Lebanon young fennel leaves are used to make a special kind of egg omelet (with onions and flour) called ijjeh.
Florence fennel is a key ingredient in some German and Italian salads that are often tossed with chicory and avocado. It can be braised and served as a warm side dish. It can also be blanched, marinated, or cooked in risotto. In Spain the stems of the fennel plant are used in the preparation of pickled eggplant called berenjenas de almagro. In Israel fennel salad is made of chopped fennel bulbs flavored with salt, black pepper, parsley, olive oil, and sometimes sumac.
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