Fennel, Orange & Mint Salad
I must admit I’ve been having a big love affair with fennel lately. This relationship developed slowly, as growing up I was terribly against anise and all its friends (I still cannot stand liquorice). Fennel seems to have charmed me and kept me enamoured longer than I thought possible. I first fell in love after a friend served his famous Southern fried chicken with some roasted fennel. Being polite, I took some on my plate, but shortly went back for seconds. I was hooked.
My first foray into raw fennel began with a late summer salad that involved mango and avocado and it was absolutely sublime. I think I ate it everyday for a week until I started getting funny looks in the lunchroom at work for my overzealous appreciation of fennel. Fresh salads are in abundance in the summer; they go hand in hand with sunshine like two best friends. As we delve deeper and deeper into Winter, I craved the interesting salads of Summer. I have been indulging in my fair share of comfort food, as one does when it gets chilly outside, but I know that it is a flaw of many of us that we do not eat enough raw food on the whole, and there’s only so far dressed greens can take you.
The problem that many of us find is the unappealing nature of some raw vegetables – the texture may not have a comfortable mouth feel, or in the case of fennel, the flavour can be just that bit too strong. The trick is slicing them as absolutely finely as possible, transforming them into a delicate hum and hint beneath the overall meal. Experiment with other vegetables you don’t usually see as potential raw salad players – grated broccoli adds a wonderful texture, ribbons of raw zucchini or carrot are beautiful and silky additions – and you are left with a world of opportunities for a healthy meal or side dish when stodgy pies or bakes get a little too overwhelming.
I’m not sure where this combination came from – I’m sure it’s not terribly original and I’ve stumbled across it somewhere – but all I know is that I dreamed of it (I often dream of food, it’s an awful flaw) and began craving it for lunch the next day. Mulling it over, the tastebuds of my mind decided it made sense. Citrus will always work well with raw vegetable salads and has the added bonus of softening the vegetable into a nicer texture. Orange works particularly well as the sweetness balances out the sharp, anise nature of the fennel. Mint? Well that adds a refreshing undertone that ties all the pieces nicely together in a delicious little bow. This is dressed simply – no need for fancy work here, as you have everything you need to create a well rounded taste. The only thing that I would add, and suggest you do if you are so inclined, is some very finely chopped chilli sprinkled over the whole thing, which will give it a delightful little kick.
Otherwise, I highly recommend you pair this with something spicy – chilli pan-fried fish comes to mind as the perfect partner.
In this case, I have served my salad with some homegrown edible flowers – pansies – which not only give a bit of pepperiness, but also look quite lovely.
Fennel, Orange & Mint Salad (serves 1)
half of one fennel bulb
half of one orange
one small handful of mint
one tablespoon lemon juice
two tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
Wash fennel and remove hard outer leaves. Using a mandolin or a sharp knife, shave the fennel into fine slices. Arrange as a bottom layer on your plate and set aside.
Peel the orange and remove as much of the white pith as possible with your knife. Slice into half centimetre rounds and separate into segments, placing on top of your fennel.
Sprinkle mint leaves across the plate, drizzle some olive oil and squeeze some lemon juice over the top. Season with salt and pepper to serve.