Pollen in the pantry

As winter drags on, many people are likely struggling to include vegetables in their meals without resorting to the same-old recipes. Healthy eating is simply easier in the spring, summer and fall, as fresh options and warmer temperatures allow you to create a variety of salads and other dishes that incorporate vegetables. As the weather turns colder, however, it can often seem that your options are limited to stews and roasts. Fortunately, there is a versatile and delicious vegetable that surprisingly few cooks seem to be using that can help shake up your winter recipes: fennel.

Fennel is a licorice-like plant that can be used in a variety of different ways. Unlike other ingredients, fennel recipes can use the plant’s bulb, fronds, stalks, as well as fennel seeds and fennel pollen. But what are fennel seeds, and what is fennel pollen? How can these different parts be used to shake up your winter cooking? Read on to find out.

What is the Fennel Plant and How Can It Be Cooked?
One of the many benefits of fennel is that the fronds, stalks and bulb, are an excellent source of Vitamin C. As a result, slices of the bulb or the stalks are a great addition to winter salads: simply try tossing them olive oil, lemon juice and some Parmesan cheese. The plant can also be sauteed or cooked with olive oil and spices alongside pork chops and other meats. If you’re looking for flavor and flexibility, however, consider making it into a vegetable stock: simply take the core and outer petals and cover them in cold water salt, and fennel seed before boiling the ingredients for ten minutes. When this is completed, strain the broth and use it as a braising liquid or risotto base.

What About Fennel Seeds?
Fennel seeds have been used for both culinary and medicinal purposes for centuries: one of its more common uses involves bruising the seeds to make a carminative tea. When it comes to cooking, however, these seeds can easily be added to salads, soups and stews, as seen in the vegetable stock above. Similarly, the seeds can be added to risotto or crushed and used as a curry seasoning. Some deserts also benefit from their anise-like taste. But one of the most common culinary uses doesn’t involve cooking at all: the seeds are often eaten after meals to promote good digestion and fresh breath.

Finally, What is Fennel Pollen?
What is fennel pollen?” is an extremely reasonable question; after all, we are more likely to associate pollen with allergies than cooking. However, pollen from fennel plants has been collected for generations and used for culinary purposes in Tuscany and other famous cultures. As a result, chefs have used fennel pollen in everything from salads to fish dishes. Simple add a pinch of this ingredient during the cooking process, as you would any other spice, and don’t be afraid to get creative: everything from breads and roast vegetables to meat dishes can benefit from this ingredient. But use it sparingly: fennel pollen is known for its powerful taste, so you won’t need much.

How are you avoiding winter cooking fatigue? Would you consider using fennel to shake things up as you wait for spring? Share your thoughts in the comments below!