Fennel — My official apology

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28 Apr Fennel — My official apology

PoundedFennel

Until recently fennel was a spice I ignored. If I saw it in a recipe, I skipped it. After all, it was usually one of fifteen other spices in a curry. Who’d notice it was missing?

But this past week I came across a couple of recipes where fennel was the star. Omit it and … well, you’ve got a stark steak or a plain pastry.

And so, to make amends to fennel and its gentle licorice flavour, I am offering you not one but TWO fennel recipes. Both are inspired by Indian cuisine. Both are incredibly simple. Both have convinced me to make room for fennel in my spice rack. Sorry dried tarragon, you’ll have to find a home elsewhere.

Our fennel-infused meal began with a recipe that pleased Andrew immensely. Fennel-encrusted steak cooked on the barbecue. Meat and fire? What more could the man want? One minute of prep time? What more could I want?

The photo and recipe are courtesy of Bal Arneson’s Everyday Indian (Whitecap Books, 2009).

New York Steak with Fennel Seeds
Printable Recipe
Serves 4

This recipe was inspired by steak with peppercorn sauce. I like New York steak, but you can use any cut. Fennel seed is called saunf in Punjabi. The seeds are pale green, strongly aromatic, and usually chewed as a breath freshener after a meal.

Ingredients

  • 2 tsp whole fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 4 New York steaks, 8 oz each

Instructions

  1. Preheat the barbecue to medium. Place the fennel seeds, cumin, coriander, salt and pepper in a bowl and mix well.
  2. Rub the mixture on both sides of each steak.
  3. Grill the steaks until done to your preference, about 5 to 7 minutes on each side for rare.

A few vegetables and a bit of rice and the meal was complete — almost.

For dessert, I made this not-too-sweet pastry from Monica’s Bhide’s Modern Spice (Simon & Schuster, 2009).

DSC00639.jpg

Pinwheels of Pleasure
Printable Recipe
Makes 12

I once interviewed the author of a coffee book who described the moment she tasted her first cup of “real coffee” as a “GodShot” moment, adding that “Hemingway was right — the first time, the earth does move.” I feel that way about these cookies. These cookies are not very sweet, I feel, but just right. You can increase the honey a touch if you like sweeter cookies. Also they taste best as soon as they are made.

To prepare the almonds, soak them in boiling water for about a minute and then drain. Allow to cool. Remove the skins of the almonds; they will slip off. Pat them dray and then grind them in a spice or coffee grinder to a coarse grind — not a fine grind, just a coarse grind without any large pieces of almonds. Their texture should be a little coarser than dried bread crumbs.

Ingredients

  • a few tablespoons flour for dusting
  • 1 frozen puff pastry sheet, thawed
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 cup ground blanched almonds
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, roughly pounded (see Note)

Instructions

  1. Heat the oven to 450°F. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper. Lightly dust a clean work surface with flour.
  2. Roll out the pastry sheet into a 10 X 12-inch rectangle on the work surface.
  3. Drizzle the honey over the entire pastry sheet. Sprinkle the almonds over the sheet, then sprinkle the fennel over the sheet.
  4. Now roll the pastry sheet into a pinwheel, forming a log.
  5. Cut the log into 12 cookies. Place the cookies flat on the cookie sheet, about 1 inch apart. At this point, I find it helpful to refrigerate them for about half an hour or so before baking. I find it helps them hold their shape better.
  6. Bake on the middle rack until you see the top of the cookies begin to brown, about 8 minutes. Flip over and bake for another 7 to 8 minutes.
  7. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on the cookie sheet before serving.

Note: Why pound the fennel? This helps the fennel to release its flavor as it releases the oils stored inside the seed.

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No Comments
  • cheryl
    Posted at 14:17h, 28 April Reply

    I love to chew on the fennel seeds in those spice mixes they have when you leave Indian restaurants. I think it’s supposed to freshen your breath, too, right?

    Like you, I’m a late bloomer when it comes to fennel. I’ve come to embrace it only recently. And with a name like Pinwheels of Pleasure, those pastries have to be good.

  • FRANCESCA
    Posted at 16:09h, 28 April Reply

    Charmian, I love fennel. Not sure if you’ve ever made roasted fennel with parmesan cheese on it..it’s delicious and a lovely accompaniment to a roast. I will sometimes roast red and yellow peppers along side the fennel with parsley and some garlic.

    At Market Fresh I buy the small hard twisted bread pretzels( not sure how to spell their Italian name) with fennel seeds in them. I would love to make them, but don’t have a recipe.

    Fennel, like anise seeds do freshen the breath. Recently I’ve learned that anise soap is a great deodorant soap due to the properties of the anise oil used in the making of it. I have “oil of anise” that I use when I make biscotti and you can use it to make soap as well. In fact anise scented soap is also known as Fisherman’s or Hunter’s Soap because it removes the human scent. (Used by hunters before the hunt!)

    On a final note: That steak looks delicious!!! 😉

  • danamccauley
    Posted at 20:36h, 28 April Reply

    Pinwheels of pleasure – you’ve got my attention!

    I, too, don’t use fennel often but I do like it when it’s used in the right place at the right time.

    Great post. Thanks!

  • Bergamot
    Posted at 21:36h, 28 April Reply

    I love the taste and fragance of fennel seeds. Fennel seeds in cookies…must try this sometime.

  • Christie's Corner
    Posted at 23:20h, 28 April Reply

    Cheryl, glad to know I’m not the only one who came to this late. I think I got it confused with anise which is stronger.

    Francesca, the fennel pretzels sound good. I might have to drop by Market Fresh and taste one for myself.

    Dana, these were a nice light change from a heavy dessert and the perfect end to an Indian style meal.

    Bergamot, if you try these, let me know what you think. Monica says her testers liked them sweeter, but I followed the recipe and found them sweet enough as is.

  • soupnancy
    Posted at 00:54h, 29 April Reply

    OMG, you better apologize. Of all the spices to have neglected for so long.. It’s one of my long time favourites, and a component in just about all my spice mixes; I even add it to my tomato sauce. I suggest you try your same rub on fish or chicken!

  • amyproulx
    Posted at 18:45h, 29 April Reply

    The Italian fennel cookies are called taralli. Yum yum yum.

  • Mel @ bouchonfor2.com
    Posted at 21:37h, 29 April Reply

    Love the Pinwheels idea. Simple, yet delicious. Thanks for sharing!

  • andrew
    Posted at 10:58h, 02 May Reply

    Woooot~ thanks for the sweet info.. hehe =D I may not be a fan of it but.. good to know abit about it..

  • Christie's Corner
    Posted at 13:25h, 04 May Reply

    Andrew, if you aren’t a fennel fan, try using a bit of cinnamon and nutmeg. No reason you can’t play with the spices. Cardamom is another spice that might go well if you don’t like fennel.

    Thanks for taking the time to drop a note even though you don’t like the main ingredient. If you do try a variation, let me know how it works.

  • Christie's Corner
    Posted at 13:28h, 04 May Reply

    SoupNancy, now that I know I like fennel I will add it to more things. I’ll definitely try it with a chicken rub. Never thought of it with tomato sauce. Thanks for the tips.

    Amy, I’ll have to look for those cookies. I could become addicted…

    Mel, thanks for taking the time to comment. I’m so glad you liked them. Monica is a magician with spices.

  • Elyse
    Posted at 01:33h, 05 May Reply

    I’m not usually a fennel person. Licorice has never been my thing, and even though fennel doesn’t hit you over the head with that licorice flavor, it’s there. However, seeing your super yummy dishes has given me moment to pause. Maybe I need to give fennel another chance. I mean, your creations look sooo yummy!

  • Christie's Corner
    Posted at 16:52h, 09 May Reply

    Elyse, I”m not a huge licorice fan either, but didn’t mind fennel in these dishes. I think the trick is to find other flavours to balance things out. With the steak, the cumin and coriander worked well with the fennel, and in the pinwheels, the honey tempered the licorice.

    If you do try a fennel recipe, I’d love to know what you think.

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