change of heart.

I’ll admit it.  I’ve never liked fennel.  I have even used the “h word” when it comes to black licorice.  So, I never had the desire to get close to a vegetable that supposedly tastes just like that flavor I detest. 

Until one night a couple of weeks ago.  We were on the back deck at a friend’s home, enjoying a lovely dinner, even though we had already eaten.  Hey- when you love food as much as we do, you taste it in spite of not being hungry.  And I’m so glad that I did.  Because as I was crunching away on a light, fresh, totally scrumptious salad, I asked my friend, Rebecca, “What’s in this?”  And her response…you guessed it.  FENNEL.  Fennel?  Really?  Could it be that I have adoration in my heart and on my taste buds for this bulb that I have ignored for the last 35 years?  Yes.  It’s so true.  Note to selves, my friends, keep on tasting, because you never know when your palate may change its tune.

This discovery could not have come at a more perfect time.  Just yesterday, I received my list of veggies that will be in our next CSA bag from Turtle Bend, and fennel was at the top of the list.  I’m so glad I didn’t have to tell Mecca to give mine to someone who would appreciate it!  Instead, I spent a few moments reminiscing about Rebecca’s salad and what intrigued me.  And then, I built this beautiful concoction in my mind.

Grilled fennel and corn salad with grape tomatoes and an orange dill dressing.  Light, springy, fresh, and fabulous.

I had to do a little research about how to treat fennel, since it was a brand new ingredient to me.  So I pulled out a good five or six cookbooks, looked at pictures, got on the inter-web and read other people’s ideas, and then embarked upon my own.

Somehow, I though that grilling the fennel would soften the licorice flavor a bit.  I felt the same way about utilizing orange juice, yogurt and dill in the dressing.  My goal was not to cover or mask the fennel, just to file down the edges and bring out its best qualities.  I love it when my brain comes up with a plan that works brilliantly in reality.

I started with 2 bulbs of fennel.  I cut off the tops and reserved some of fronds to add to the salad later.  So Iron Chefy- fennel two ways in one salad.  I also cut out the core, which felt a little tricky to me.  Then, I cut each bulb into quarters, so I could have adequate surface area for grilling.

Next, I tossed them in a bowl with some EVOO and salt and pepper and set them to grillin’.  My goal was just to char them for a few minutes, because maintaining the crunch factor was important to me.  I didn’t want them to become floppy. 

I also prepared my corn in the same fashion.

And before I knew it, I had grilled corn,

which afforded me an opportunity to use my favorite kitchen tool- the corn stripper!!!  Love. 

It’s just so simple to embrace the freshness!!

All I did was slice the fennel into ribbons and toss it all in a big bowl with a couple tablespoons of the fronds- just the skinny pieces, not the fat stems.

And it was time to get out my magic little food processor and whip up a quick dressing.

1 clove garlic

2 T red wine vinegar

2 T Greek yogurt, I like 2%

juice of an orange

a small handful of fresh dill

salt and pepper

I whirred it together and then streamed in about 1/4 Cup of EVOO.  It made for a pretty loose dressing, which was perfect for my salad.  I wanted it to be light- not to weigh anything down.

I drizzled a bit onto the veggies and tossed it all together.  Then I went in for a taste.

Spectacular!!!  My aspirations for the fennel were realized in the most soft, subtle, gentle, welcoming way.  Yes, there was a hint of licorice, but it was not aggressive or sharp.  The grill worked its springtime wonders into this bowl of goodness, and the fennel gracefully yielded to the orange, yogurt, and dill, rendering a sweetness that exceeded my expectations.

We served this beautiful salad along side another Griller’s treasure- chicken wings.  We prepared them with a nod to Blue Fish Cafe’s Chef Wings.  A special container marked “Magic Seasoning” lives in our pantry that has bits and pieces of many spice rubs of days past.  The wings got a quick dip in a spiced oil mixture and then got a good scald over the charcoal.  Then, a toss in buffalo sauce and a quick mix of some homemade blue cheese dressing. 

And the last component was roasted fingerling potatoes.  So small and quick-cooking, tender and tasty.  We cooked them in a roasting pan on the grill.  It has been a good stretch since we’ve had potatoes in our house – and once in a while is A-okay with me. 

Hooray!  Such a delightful springtime meal.  Spicy, sweet, simple, flavorful.  And the fennel was truly the star.

I hope you will open your mind and taste buds to revisit flavors or foods that may have been in your “No Way” compartment until now.  And for you Turtle Benders out there, enjoy your beautiful fennel and dill.  This salad is sure to surprise and bring pleasure to your palate.

Happy cooking and eating, Y’all!


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