I have made this fennel salad six times in a week and a half. I have served to it every person who sets foot in my house (or whose house I visit). It is that good.
Fresh fennel bulbs have a crunch and texture that I would say is most reminiscent of celery, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. It doesn’t lose its crispness after chopping, the way many other turgid, water-full vegetables can. In that regard, it reminds me a bit of jicama (which is delicious if you haven’t had the pleasure yet). I think I would describe it best as the texture and consistency of firm, fresh, raw onion with a light lettuce-like taste and a hint of licorice (more in the smell than the taste).
At first, I thought that I was just temporarily enamored with the taste of fresh fennel. I had never eaten it before outside of the occasional garnish. Vegetables from a farm share are always at the peak of freshness and flavor, so I knew that this is pretty much as good as it gets with fennel. But there is just something addicting about this particular combination of flavors – I can’t seem to enjoy fennel served any other way now!
I have tried a few other things, but parmesan cheese and lime seem to be the perfect accompaniments. If you only have other cheeses or lemons on hand, I urge you to go to the store and make this salad in earnest. I have taste-tested it on many people (even people who don’t like the taste of parmesan), and I can safely promise that this salad will exceed your expectations.
Prep time: 10 minutes
- one fresh fennel bulb
- parmesan cheese
- light vinegar (white white or apple cider is best, but you can use half the quantity of balsamic in a pinch)
- good-quality extra virgin olive oil*
- one lime
- freshly ground pepper (or white pepper if you have it)
For a twist: Add julienned jicama or fresh sugar snap peas (snapped into bite-sized halves).
- If not already removed, cut of the long, leafy fronds at the top of the fennel bulb.
- Throughly wash the bulb in warm water, scrubbing off any dirt. If the outer layer is too bruised or brown, remove it and do not use.
- Remove each layer of the fennel bulb by cutting along the bottom of the layer to separate it from the stem. When you get to the tightly wrapped inner layers, they may be too difficult to remove. That’s fine, just leave them for now.
- Breaking each piece of fennel into thirds that will lie more or less flat on your cutting board, chop the fennel. You want to make long, thin strips, cutting along the grain of the fennel. Each strip should be about an eighth of an inch wide. If the strips are more than two inches long, cut them in half through the middle so they will be bite-sized.
- Cut the center of the bulb into slices, and then the slices into strips.
- Transfer the chopped fennel to a salad bowl.
- Using a vegetable peeler, shred this strips of parmesan into the salad. You want about fifteen to twenty small pieces.
- Assemble the dressing in a small bowl or ramekin by combining a teaspoon vinegar, a tablespoon olive oil, and the juice of one lime.
- Add a half teaspoon of pepper (just a dash if you are using white pepper) and a teaspoon of salt and mix the dressing again thoroughly.
- Pour the dressing over the fennel and toss to coat.
*A note on olive oil: I haven’t written much about olive oil, though it is a much-discussed and rather touchy topic. A good rule of thumb is that you can use pretty much any quality oil for cooking (but keep it extra virgin, because the smoking point and way the vegetables saute can differ). For salads though, you need the good stuff. It is worth buying one $20 bottle of fresh, beautiful, cloudy green Tuscan oil or hitting up Olivers & Co. and tasting till you find your favorite. It will take you a long time to go through this oil, but your new salad dressings will be light-years apart from the old ones.