I have a very interesting Dietetics course this termcalled “Food Theory Applications” — aka cooking class! This is a course that allows us to try out different recipesmodify the ingredientsalter the cooking techniques and observe how the final products will turn out. Through experimenting and tastingwe learn about the different cooking principles that make food turn out the way they do and gain hands-on experience on how to make delicious food!
On our very first daywe were taken to a local supermarket for a guided tour. This was an opportunity for everyone to get familiar with grocery shopping (since some of my classmates have never cooked beforeso it was much needed for them). Although it seemed very silly at firstthe tour actually turned out to be quite informative. The dietitian who led us around was very knowledgeable about food and she told us many tips on how to help people choose healthier options among the dazzling selection of food items on the shelves. She also offered some practical advice on how we can better prepare ourselves to become food experts in the future.
The advice she gave at the fresh product section was the most memorable piece to me. She told us to stroll around and pick out a fruit or vegetable that we had never tried before. As I walked arounda large fennel bulb caught my eye. (Growing up in a traditional Chinese familyfennel was never on our menu and so I had no clue how fennel tasted at all.) Others picked out some pretty exotic looking producesome of the items I could namebut many of the choices I had no idea whatsoever. After we gathered upthe dietitian went over each item and talked briefly about how they would taste and how she would prepare and eat them.
The purpose of this activity was to get us to realize that there are so many different kinds of fresh produce available on the marketso even though we think we eat a diverse dietthere is actually still a lot of foods that we have never tried before! Especially as (future) dietitiansit is important for us to be constantly on the lookout for new foodsto try these foods and understand their flavours so we develop a large food knowledge databasemaking it a lot easier to help others make smart food choices.
This activity was definitely an eye opener for me. Despite calling myself adventurousI realize I have not truly been venturing out of my comfort zone. InsteadI have just been safely dancing in my safe zoneworking with foods that are fairly common and playing with flavour combinations that I am familiar with. This exercise has really enlightened me. It has made me realize that there is a whole lot more culinary experiments waiting for me to explore!
With a strong flame inside pushing me to try new thingsI boldly placed the fennel bulb in my shopping basket and in my mindI assigned myself a very difficult challenge: try the fennel and make it taste good.
First attempt: Salad
The dietitian described fennel as a common ingredient in saladsand so I decided that I should first try it raw.
I wanted to cut the fennel into small piecesbut after staring at it cluelessly for a good five minutesI had to google it to find out how to cut it up; thankfully I found a visual tutorial that clearly showed me a way to thinly slice the fennel bulb. After overcoming this mini obstacleI was finally ready to try fennel for the first time in my life (seriouslyfirst time)!
Crunchy? Yes. The texture was very much similar to that of celery. (So if you like celery in your saladsyou will possibly enjoy fennel.)
Flavourful? Yesbut definitely not the flavours that I enjoy. It had a faint licorice taste that lingered in my mouthkind of stingy on my tongue…
The end result: I don’t enjoy raw fennel at alland there is no way I would consider putting the rest of the fennel slices into my salad. No way.
Second attempt: Soup
I wanted to find a recipe that incorporates fennel as a key ingredient so that the flavour of cooked fennel could really stand out.
I chose to make a fennel soup. I found a recipe that had many positive reviews. Many people commented that they “rediscovered” fennel and reported that they would make it againclaiming that the soup recipe was one of the easiest and tastiest way to enjoy fennel. Really…? I was doubtful but since I had all the ingredients alreadyI quickly whipped up a large batch of soup using the remaining fennel slices.
At this pointI did not have high hopes that cooked fennel would taste any goodI just hoped that it would just lose the rawstingy licorice flavour and have a more bearable flavour.
The end result: I was delightful surprised! The strong licorice taste of raw fennel disappeared and only a very faint trace of it remained in the soupgiving the soup a very unique aroma and flavour that I found quite tasty (partly probably because I chose to use a strong flavoured homemade vegetable broth too). From this trialI learned that cooked fennel definitely has distinguishably different taste from raw fennela huge improvement in flavour actually.
Incorporating fennel into a soup is a better way to use itbut it still wasn’t the best way to consume fennel. I enjoyed the soup but I did not like the big fennels chunks floating in it; it was not very appetizing. ThusI needed to modify this soup recipe to make it more visual appealing and then it would qualify as the winning method to enjoy fennel.
Third attempt: Pureed soup
The soup was very flavourful alreadyso I simply needed an extra step to make the fennel chunks disappear. I poured the soup contents into my blender and pureed itturning the runny soup into a “creamy” pureed soup.
The end result: A homeywarming “cream” of fennel soup. I was completely satisfied with the results and this certainly was really one yummy way to enjoy fennel!
Conclusion: I will probably never eat fennel raw againbut I can already imagine myself making the soup over and over again. After 3 trial runsI can proudly declare that I have found a good way to enjoy fennel. Mission accomplished!
“Cream” of Fennel
What you’ll need:
A large fennel bulbcoarsely chopped (about 4 cups)