31 Days of Vegetables

Fennel: The Best Ways to Pick It, Cook It, and Eat It

updated Sep 21, 2023
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

Ah, fennel! While this herbaceous bulb has been a part of Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine for generations, it’s also made a big splash in American homes and restaurants, lending its particular mild anise flavor to soups and salads, stir-fries, and more. Here’s everything you need to know about selecting and eating every part of the fennel plant.

What Is Fennel?

Fennel is a tall, perennial Mediterranean herb most closely related to the carrot. It has fronds (like dill), a bulb, flowers, and fruits (often called seeds) that are all edible, cooked or raw.

What Does Fennel Taste Like?

Hearing that fennel tastes like anise or licorice, many people decide to steer clear before even trying it. And while there are similarities, fennel — especially the bulb and leaves — is actually much milder than the pungent, almost-numbing licorice root. But fresh fennel does have the mildly sweet flavor associated with licorice, and the seeds (or fruit) are often candied and eaten after meals in India as a breath freshener.

The Fennel Top 5

Five fantastic features for fomenting fennel fondness.

  1. Read this love letter to fennel from chef and “vegetable butcher” Cara Mangini.
  2. Then learn exactly how to cut a fennel bulb.
  3. Ready to cook? Below you’ll find our favorite fennel recipes.
  4. You’ll also want to read up on how to use the stalks and fronds!
  5. One good way to use the stalks? Just like celery.

What Are the Nutritional Benefits of Fennel?

According to the USDA, raw fennel has potassium and vitamin C, and it’s a great source of fiber.

How to Choose the Best Fennel

Fennel is a cold-weather veggie, so while it’s available all year long, it’s freshest (and sweetest) from late fall to early spring. Look for firm, tightly packed bulbs with fresh, unwilted fronds. Avoid any that are bruised, or have lots of brown spots, or that look rubbery. It should keep well in the fridge, loosely wrapped in plastic, for about a week. And even after that, if the outside is unappetizing, the inner layers can often still be used.

How to Cut a Fennel Bulb

Whether you’re using it in salads or stir-fries, a fennel bulb is relatively straightforward to prepare: Just cut it the same way you might an onion (which is, after all, another bulb).

After trimming off the fronds and stalks, we like to stand it up on its root and cut it in half, then simply chop the bulb up into thin slices. For a handy visual guide and more info, check out our handy guide to cutting fennel bulb.

The Best Ways to Cook Fennel

There are many delicious ways to cook a fennel bulb! You can try the following:

Fennel vs. Anise

Is there a difference between fennel and anise? While there are some confusing similarities, they’re actually unrelated plants. The seeds (or fruit) of both plants look the same and are used in much the same way. And if you’re looking at the plant in the ground, the stalks and flowers can look similar as well. But there are some significant differences.

  • The only edible part of the anise plant is its seeds,
  • The entire fennel plant is edible.
  • Anise does not grow from a bulb, the way fennel does.
  • Anise seed has a much more intense flavor than fennel seed.
  • Fennel is often candied or sold for eating raw while anise seed is not.
  • Anise seed tends to be used sparingly in cooking, either ground or whole, as a strong spice.

No Fresh Fennel? Here’s What to Substitute.

If you’re replacing the bulb or stalks in a cooked dish and either can’t find fennel or don’t want the licorice taste, try a combination of onion or celery. Both have a similar texture when cooked. If you’re replacing the bulb or stalks in a raw dish, celery is probably the best substitute.

For the fronds, both dill and tarragon will work as replacements, although they’ll change the flavor of the dish.

Are Fennel Seeds Nutritious?

Like many kinds of seeds, fennel fruit packs a dense amount of nutrition into a small package. Just 3.5 ounces of fennel seed contain fiber and a variety of B vitamins and vitamin C. It also contains calcium, iron, and magnesium.

However, the seeds are not often eaten in such large amounts. A typical serving of seeds is closer to a tablespoon — or about 1/ 10 of an ounce.

The Best Ways to Use Up Leftover Fennel

Not sure what to do with the rest of a fennel bulb? Toss it with some arugula for a quick and easy salad! Or braise it with shallots and orange zest for a fast side that’s delicious and easy to reheat. If all else fails, put it in the oven with some other veggies to roast.

Our Top Fennel Recipes

Fennel Recipes

1 / 27
Arugula & Fennel Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

When you need a simple salad to make the meal complete, this tumble of arugula and shaved fennel is all you need. I find the combo of peppery arugula and sweet, crunchy fennel so delightfully addictive — so much so that I’ll sometimes eat a big bowlful with just a wedge of toasted baguette and call that dinner.

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2 / 27
Roasted Chicken Thighs with Fennel & Lemon

I definitely encourage you to serve this dish with the optional cooked rice or bread (cooked couscous would also be lovely) — there’s some great lemony, garlicky sauce lingering on the sheet pan that deserves to be soaked up.

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3 / 27
Braised Fennel and Shallots with Parsley and Orange Zest

This classic, refined cooking method promises a combination of caramelized flavor and long-cooked tenderness, nudged along by gentle heat and a solicitous chef.

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4 / 27
Chicken Soup with Fennel and Farro

Studded with chewy whole farro and slivers of fennel stalks in place of celery, this is far from your average bowl of chicken soup. (But it comforts just like any good one.)

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5 / 27
Leek, Potato, and Fennel Soup with Bacon

This soup is comfort in a bowl. I love serving it with chunks of buttered rustic bread as an easy supper. Thick, creamy, and fragrant — with the deliciously salty crunch of bacon — this unusual leek, potato, and fennel soup is equally at home at an everyday dinner or an elegant dinner party.

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6 / 27
Sausage & Fennel Ragù

Making a good ragù is like playing music, or practicing any other discipline that requires periods of meditative patience punctuated with quick action.

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7 / 27
Orecchiette with Caramelized Fennel and Spicy Sausage

The caramelized fennel lends a not-too-sweet complexity that balances the richness of sausage. These flavors pool in the wells of the orecchiette, so you get a tangle of all these in every bite.

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8 / 27
Fresh Fennel and Lemon Slaw

Zesty citrus vingars, strong nut oils, old-fashioned olive oils — they all come out to play in my winter salads, along with the robust crunch of cabbage, fennel, and bitter greens.

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9 / 27
Fennel, Beet, and Orange Salad

Bright, juicy, and crisp, this salad was born from the transition of seasons at our local farmers’ market. Combining winter citrus and beets with a bulb of early spring fennel, it’s sweet and richy scented and doesn’t require turning on an oven, which might be a plus if you’re lucky enough to live in a place where it’s already warm.

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10 / 27
Orange, Olive, and Fennel Salad

This is probably our favorite salad – we really can’t eat enough of fennel and orange. But the olives added a salty, savory kick – probably a similar role to the crab lump in a memorable salad we ate at Piccolo in Venice Beach. But olives are considerably cheaper and have a charm all their own!

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11 / 27
Couscous With Chickpeas, Fennel, and Citrus

Caramelized fennel melds perfectly with the textures and flavors of nutty chickpeas, succulent olives, orange, and lemon – and spooned over couscous, it makes a quick-cooking, bright yet hearty dish.

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12 / 27
Roasted Potatoes, Fennel & Radishes with Lemon Brown Butter Sauce

Roasted radishes are very good all by themselves, but even better with other vegetables, like this mix of tiny fingerling potatoes and fennel.

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13 / 27
Roasted Beet Soup with Fennel and Orange

This recipe incorporates two other cool-weather companions, fennel and orange, which brighten the earthy flavor.

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14 / 27
Fennel, Carrot, and Leek Gratin Recipe
Fennel, carrots, and leek are mixed with an aromatic Parmesan cream sauce and topped with pecan breadcrumbs for the ultimate veggie gratin.
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15 / 27
Roasted Fennel
This tender roasted fennel boasts the most delicious caramelized edges.
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16 / 27
Clams with ‘Nduja, Corn and Fennel Recipe
Fennel pieces add a fresh crunch to balance all the deep savory flavors in this epic clam dish.
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17 / 27
One-Pot Lemon Orzo with Shrimp and Fennel
A comforting one-pot orzo dinner with bright lemon, sweet fennel, and tender shrimp.
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18 / 27
Harissa Olive Oil-Braised Chickpeas and Fennel
This simple recipe transforms a couple of cans of chickpeas into a warm, saucy, and flavor-packed dinner.
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19 / 27
Garlicky Chickpea and Fennel Salad with Baked Goat Cheese
Take that pantry can of chickpeas to new heights with the fast and fancy chickpea fennel salad. The real kicker is the fried goat cheese that goes on top.
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20 / 27
Fennel-Apple Bellinis
This winter cocktail starts with apple cider and Champagne and gets hints of sweetness from fennel syrup.
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21 / 27
Sardine Sandwich with Crunchy Fennel Slaw
Crunchy veggies, canned sardines, and a spicy mayo combine to create a cheap, fast, and protein-packed lunch that takes just 10 minutes to make.
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22 / 27
Fennel Rice Pudding

In this recipe, the once-crunchy vegetable turns into beautiful, shiny golden nuggets of candied fennel heaven — the perfect addition to a decadent rice pudding.

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23 / 27
Chicken Ragù with Bacon & Fennel

Just an hour will give you a saucy dish of shredded chicken in a smoky bacon sauce.

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24 / 27
Warm Citrusy Millet Salad with Roasted Fennel and Kalamata Olives

When tossed together with warm millet, citrusy dressing, olives and roasted fennel, a certain chord is struck with a harmony of textures and flavors.

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25 / 27
Shaved Fennel, Roasted Tomato & Pistachio Salad with Creamy Yogurt Dressing

This fennel salad has a cream-based dressing that softens the flavors of the salad ingredients — a genius combination of fennel and pistachios —without making the salad any less crisp and refreshing.

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26 / 27
Roast Chicken with Fennel, Carrots, and Gremolata

Here’s a classic dinner with a flavorful punch of fresh herbs — plus sweet roasted fennel and carrots, which absorb savory juices from the chicken by sharing the same pan.

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27 / 27
Shaved Cucumber and Fennel Salad with Olives and Feta
A Mediterranean-style salsa is layered with lemony fennel and cucumbers for a simple salad that's bright, fresh, salty, rich, briny, and crunchy.
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What’s your favorite recipe or use for fennel? Any favorite way to cook it?

31 Days of Vegetables: How to fall in love with vegetables in 31 days. How many of these splendid veg have you eaten this month? Take a look at the whole list and take our challenge to eat every single one!