Fennel is a remarkable vegetable with properties that might surprise you.

Saved by Fennel!

by Kathryn Kingen

There are certain vegetables I depend on to save me in a pinch. Because my favorite way to cook is to combine whatever I have in my refrigerator and pantry, I am vulnerable to what remains fresh. But when my cauliflower has the measles and my arugula has gone funky, who is always there to save me? Fennel. You might even hear my audible "YAY" and clapping hands as I gratefully seize that proud perennial. It's ability to withstand patient periods in my crisper, awaiting its heroic role, makes me so grateful. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that the Greek name for fennel is marathon — thus how long it remains fresh.

Of the flora in my refrigerator, exotic fennel is a welcome invitee. It's like having a vegetable with an entrancing Mediterranean accent and avant-garde mohawk hairdo lending intrigue to my mundane menu. Fennel's flavors of celery, anise and licorice are a delicious addition to any recipe. Shave it, saute it, roast it or grill it. No matter what you do, it makes everything you create taste like some extravagant dish discovered abroad.

Try Chef Jeremy's Fennel Mussels recipe in this month's "Fennel: A Love-Hate Relationship" blog and you'll see what I mean.

Can fennel have all that savoir-faire and still be nutritious? Absolutely. Don't let its pale exterior fool you, fennel has some very outstanding nutritive qualities. To begin, fennel is astoundingly low in caloric content. A 100-gram bulb is a mere 31 calories. It is also extremely low in fat and has no cholesterol. It's not just what fennel doesn't have that makes it great, its assets of vitamin C and potassium contribute substantially. Vitamin C's ability to strengthen our immune system combined with fennel's high anethole content, which contributes to antibacterial and antifungal functions, supports its long-standing medicinal use. Anethole, fennel's intriguing phytonutrient, has the ability to perform anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-cancer affects. Additionally, its potassium content is notable and plays a welcome part in helping to decrease blood pressure. (Please see my earlier blog on potassium to learn more about why potassium is crucial and how it works.)

Fennel also contributes a substantial amount of fiber to our diet, important for good gastrointestinal stimulation.*

Although fennel is savory lending itself well to onions and other vegetables, it also has a sweetness that plays well with such things as apples and oranges. The possible combinations are endless. So load up your larder with some fennel and give this hero a try, or come to Salty's and let our chefs tantalize you with their Fennel Steamed Penn Cove Mussels with Parmesan Frites served from October 9 to 15 only.

*Read more at www.nutrition-and-you.com/fennel-bulb.html.

Kathryn Kingen is co-owner of Salty's Seafood Grills and an award winning food blogger.

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