This year is in a rush to get done. I planned to share this recipe in early January and now we are into March already. So let me get to it right away - this is the best salad I've made, ever. It was only after I came to San Diego that I started noticing fennel bulbs in produce aisles almost all through the year. I love flavor of fennel seeds (saunf), specially in the form of addictive mukhwas. As kids, my brother and I would hoard the bowls placed on the table at the end of meal in restaurants. While my father took care of the bill, we took care of the saunf bowl! We'd fill our tiny mouths with as much as we could and then stuff the rest into paper napkins for later. Though not at the same level, my fascination for anisey flavored food is not lost. And so when I saw huge white bulbs labelled fennel at the store I had to give them a try.
Fresh fennel has a crisp, refreshing flavor unlike any other raw vegetable. Initially, it took a few tries to get used to the concept of eating my favorite mouth freshener in vegetable form. But since then it has become a regular in my shopping list. Fennel has been used in Mediterranean cuisine for a long time. It can be eaten raw, cooked into stews and soups, braised and even roasted. I've tried all these methods and enjoy eating them raw the most.
When buying look for plump bulbs with fresh, healthy fronds on top (fennel greens). If the outer layers look blemished, give it a good wash and shave away a thin layer using a vegetable peeler. Slice off close to where the greens begin and the tough bottom core. I reserve the fronds to use as a herb. If roasting fennel, retain the core and cut the bulb into quarters so they hold their shape. Otherwise slice the bulb in half, splitting through the tough core and cut a deep wedge to remove the core. Once this is done you can slice it lengthwise or across based on the final dish. For maximum crunch I prefer cutting thin slices across the bulb instead of lengthwise.
If you have a mandolin, this would be a perfect place to use it and make thin half moons of fennel, onions and matchsticks of carrot. I don't have one and doing it by hand takes only a few minutes longer and you have one less gadget to wash :) You can also use a serrated vegetable peeler for the carrots which gives a slightly similar texture.
I think I go through more cilantro than any other herb and the same goes with chaat masala in the spices section. I periodically get rid of all the other masalas that rarely get used but that's never the case with chaat masala. A little sprinkle on salads and fruits is a sure way to make me eat them with relish. In this salad though fennel is the show stopper - chaat masala, cilantro, limes - combine to make it an instant hit. They add to make it super refreshing and the khatta meeta balance of flavors is amazing.
Fennel Salad with Chaat masalaPrep time: 20 minsIngredients
- 1 - Fennel bulb, thinly sliced
- 1 - Carrot (medium size), sliced into thin matchsticks
- Quarter of a red onion, halved through the root end and thinly sliced into half moons
- 1/4 cup - Cilantro leaves, washed and roughly chopped
- 1 - Lime, juiced (~ 1/4 cup)
- 1/2 tsp - Chaat Masala
- 1/8 tsp - Red chilli powder (optional)
- 1/2 tsp - Salt
- 1/4 tsp - Pepper, freshly cracked
Note: Make the salad at least 30 mins before serving to soften onions and allow time for flavors to combine. That said it could be made well in advance and refrigerated as it does not loose its crunch even after a few hours or up to a day. I tend to enjoy extra lime juice and chaat masala in this salad. I can assure you that the raw onions will not leave you with bad breath since they are softened by the salt and lime juice but feel free to exclude them.
- In a bowl, toss together sliced fennel, carrots and onions. Sprinkle salt, lime juice and combine well using your hands, rubbing the salt into the veggies. Add chaat masala, red chilli powder, pepper and mix well.
- Next add chopped cilantro and some of the reserved fennel fronds. Combine and taste for seasonings adding more as needed.
The only confusion with fennel salad is if it should be served as a first course or last :) I've served it to friends and family and they've all loved it. If you never tried fresh fennel before this is a perfect first bite. Like any addictive chaat item, this salad has contrasting colors, textures and flavors that are in perfect harmony. I use it in tacos as a slaw, a side salad when serving heartier stews and its been a perfect addition to potluck fare. Give it a try and let me know what you think. It could be a great pick me up in the cold weather.