Fennel is one of those vegetables you grow up either loving or hating. Its strong anise scent is musky and fragrant, like the aftershave of a man you once loved. Its fronds tickle the inside of your palm as you begin to slice it, like the hand of a small child beckoning you to play. When you cut into its heart, fennel opens up fully, just like you did when you finally stopped struggling and gave in to all those feelings that love brings.
And for many of us, that melange of emotions is just too much for one vegetable… Even if that vegetable is part of a perky, tangy fennel salad.
To me, fennel holds within it secrets and promises. Its green shape reveals nothing about how its going to be when it’s sliced – languid, beautiful in its paleness. Like an armour, fennel protects its heart with a thick outer shell and a curly helmet, scaring you off with its smell.
But what’s inside is so much more than you would expect. Its flesh is sweet and fresh, even a bit citrusy, which is why it pairs up so nicely with lemon and orange and mangoes, as I did in this salad. When you roast it, fennel becomes licoricy in its sweetness, its form completely falling apart and giving way to juiciness, creaminess, and mellow flavours: pure bliss.
Fennel unfailingly speaks to our deepest feelings: love, lust, longing, and loneliness.
So when I cook with fennel, I usually want to honour its integrity and let it shine. This fennel salad with pears, apples and mustard vinaigrette is a simple, seasonal salad that is best made with local fruits and vegetables in their prime. Fennel, Bartlett pears and Honeycrisp apples are sliced thinly, and thrown together in a delicious heap. A sharp mustard vinaigrette is drizzled on top, and the whole dish is crowned with perky fennel fronds.
I made this fennel salad several times in the past two years, including serving it with a chunk of extra-sharp cheddar, to rave reviews. When I run out of apples, the dish works beautifully with just fennel and pears. All in all, you couldn’t ask for a more refreshing fall salad – and for a vegetable that is so much more than what it seems.
And if you’re going to try my bulgur salad with roasted butternut squash, this salad would go beautifully on your Thanksgiving table alongside it. I love to serve it with salmon, the recipe for which languishes in my pile of Future Blog Posts.
On Monday, expect another lovely Thanksgiving side, plus a giveaway!
Fennel salad with pears, apples and mustard vinaigrette
- 1 fennel head
- 1-2 Bartlett pears
- 1 Honeycrisp apple
- juice of 1/2 a lemon
- 2 TBs olive oil
- 1/2 TB grainy mustard
Wash apples, pears and fennel thoroughly. Thinly slice apples, pears and fennel, saving the fronds for later.
In a glass mason jar, mix lemon juice, olive oil and mustard (notice that I’ve omitted the traditional sweetener in this vinaigrette – the apples and pears are going to give us all the sweetness we want, so I wanted to keep the sauce extra tart). Seal the jar and shake it well to emulsify the vinaigrette.
Heap your fennel slices on a large serving platter. Top with thinly sliced apples and pears. Drizzle all of your vinaigrette on top. Finally, cut your fennel fronds into small bunches, and arrange them on top.