I love fennel, always, but especially during this time of year, when cravings for spring start coming on strong. Fennel’s one-of-a-kind anise flavor, brightness, and crunch really hit the spot, while I dream of verdant spring produce. It’s also citrus season, and simple mandolined fennel and blood orange salads are a favorite (something like this salad, plus segmented or sliced orange, and often without the beans).
Fennel is delicious cooked, too – caramelized sauteed fennel, fennel gratin, etc. We also love it in soups, and this week’s recipe is a super simple lentil soup, centered around fennel. We use fennel seeds and bulbs in the soup, and even include the greens from the fennel tops in gremolata, for topping the soup. When it comes to very simple dishes like this one, it’s all about the accompaniments, which is where the gremolata comes in. It’s a condiment kind of similar to Italian salsa verde but without oil, made with just chopped parsley, garlic, and lemon zest. It’s delicious spooned over pretty much any savory fare. That, plus maybe some good, crusty bread, and you’re in for a very cozy meal with this soup. Hope you’ll give it a try!
P.S. We just revived our Youtube Channel! Come and stay for simple, seasonal, plant-based cooking and other fun kitchen activities. Our very first video back happens to show you exactly how to make an orange and fennel salad, in case you’re as obsessed with fennel as we are.
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
- 1 large or 2 medium fennel bulbs
- olive oil
- sea salt
- 1 yellow onion, diced small
- 1 medium carrot, diced small
- 1 celery stalk, diced small
- 6 garlic cloves, minced, divided
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup brown or French lentils, rinsed
- 2 bay leaves
- zest and juice from 1 lemon
- leaves from 1 small bunch parsley, finely chopped
- Toast the fennel seeds in a dry skillet on medium high heat until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Watch closely so as not to burn. Let cool slightly and grind the seeds in a mortar and pestle, spice grinder, or a dedicated coffee grinder.
- Cut the stalks off the fennel, pick off the tender fronds and set them aside for later. Discard the stalks or save to use for vegetable broth or even for juicing. Cut the fennel into wedges. Heat a soup pot over medium heat and add enough oil to generously coat the bottom. Add the fennel wedges and sprinkle them with salt. Let the fennel caramelize and brown for 3-4 minutes, until the undersides are golden, then flip and repeat on the other side. Transfer the fennel to a plate or bowl for now.
- Add the onion, carrot, and celery to the pot, along with a pinch of salt. Saute over medium low heat, until the vegetables are soft but not browned, about 10-15 minutes. Add about 5 garlic cloves' worth of minced garlic (saving 1 minced clove for the gremolata), ground fennel seeds, and black pepper to taste, stir around until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the fennel wedges, lentils, bay leaves, 6 cups of water, and more salt to taste. Bring to a simmer and simmer, covered, until the lentils and fennel are tender. Brown lentils usually cook in 15-20 minutes, while French lentils take a bit longer, 20-25 minutes. No matter which lentils you're using, start tasting them at 15 minutes to keep them from getting mushy. Once the soup is done, turn off the heat and add the lemon juice. Discard the bay leaves. Taste for salt and pepper, and adjust if needed.
- While the soup is cooking, make the gremolata. Finely chop the tender fronds reserved from the fennel. In a small bowl, combine the fennel fronds, lemon zest, parsley, and the remaining minced garlic (1 clove). Mix to combine. Serve the soup warm, garnished with the gremolata.