The Roman historian Pliny recommended fennel as an aid for eyesight. It was on Charlemagne’s list of herbs, and Florence fennel was Thomas Jefferson’s favorite vegetable.
Food and other uses of fennel. The herb fennel is a key flavoring in Italian sausage, baked goods including zuccherini or Italian wedding cookies, soup, and fish dishes. Sometimes found in mirepoix and herbes de Provence, fennel may also be used in curry and Chinese five spice powder. The vegetable fennel can be prepared with pork, veal, or fish; appear raw in salads; or be used in stuffing and sauces. Fennel liqueur is called Finocchietto.
Fennel has a rounded pale green bulb with a short stem and feathery green leaves. Looks like a fat bunch of celery. The bulbs should be firm and clean with fresh looking leaves. If any brown spots are seen avoid the fennel. Fennel dries out quickly and should be wrapped and used within three to four days.
Fennel can be substituted for celery in all recipes or in salads.
Preservation. Fennel leaves and fruit can both be dried, and the leaves can also be frozen. To harvest the fruit, gather the dead flower heads and store them closed paper bags in a cool dry place until needed. The vegetable is best used fresh.
Jicama, yam bean, Mexican potato, or Mexican turnip (Pachyrhizus erosus) has been eaten in Central America for many centuries, and is now a common commodity in U.S. stores. Its sweet below-ground structure is sometimes called a taproot or tuberous root and sometimes a tuber.
Jicama is a root vegetable similar to a potato. It has a slightly sweet flavor and is an excellent source of vitamin C. It contains only 45 calories in 3-1/2 ounces. Jicama is a crispy, sweet, edible root that resembles a turnip in physical appearance, although the plants are not related.
Jicama has been cultivated in South America for centuries, and the vegetable is quite popular in Mexican cuisine. Jicama has a unique flavor that lends itself well to salads, salsas, and vegetable platters.
The jicama roots can sometimes grow to be quite large, although when they exceed the size of two fists, they begin to convert the sugars that give jicama its sweet flavor into starches, making the root somewhat woody to the taste.
When choosing jicama at the store, look for medium sized, firm tubers with dry roots. Do not purchase jicama that has wet or soft spots, which may indicate rot, and don’t be drawn to overlarge examples of the tuber, because they may not be as flavorful. Jicama will keep under refrigeration for up to two weeks.
Jicama is excellent raw and is sometimes eaten plain. It can also be used as a substitute for water chestnut in Chinese dishes, in which case it should be thrown in right before serving. Jicama also appears in stews, juiced drinks, stuffings, and a variety of other recipes. In addition to having a unique flavor and texture, jicama takes flavor well, making it well suited to culinary experimentation. Jicama is a great source of vitamin c and is fat free — making it a superb on-the-go snack.
Leeks are root vegetables that look quite similar to onions, to which they are related. Their flavor is onion-like but much milder. People who avoid leeks because they don’t like onions should try them — their flavor is mellow and not overpowering, and many onion-haters love leeks.
Leeks are best when purchased from September through November. The tops of leeks should be green with white necks two to three inches from the roots. Do not purchase if tops are wilted or if there appears to be signs of aging. Refrigerate and use within five to seven days after purchase.
Leeks are most commonly used in soup, most notably in vichyssoise, a lovely soup composed of potatoes and leeks and served cold — excellent for summer day lunching. If you have a favorite potato soup recipe, try adding some sliced leeks next time you prepare it — leeks, potatoes and carrots in a chicken broth is about the best soup there is. Leeks are also edible raw, and can impart a great crunchy flavor to salads or when eaten with a dip. Cut leeks in half lengthwise and rinse thoroughly to remove and dirt or grit, then add to a platter of crudites.
Leeks are a great source of fiber in your diet, and may actually help lower cholesterol. They’re also packed with important vitamins and minerals, including potassium, so if you are trying to increase your intake of potassium, add a few leeks to your week.
According to Welsh tradition, back in the days before military uniforms, the Welsh fighters were instructed by their king to distinguish themselves from the enemy by fixing a leek to their helmets. Whether because of this legend, or for older reasons, the leek is one of Wales’ national symbols, and is worn on the lapel in honor of St. David, Patron Saint of Wales, on his Day.
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