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Mar 11

Health Foods A-Z: Fennel

Fennel seeds have long been used as a mouth freshener after meals in India and Pakistan. The bottle of fennel seeds (or saunf) used to be a permanent fixture at our dining table, along with the salt and pepper shakers back home. It has a refreshing flavor and is very aromatic. I remember the bottle circulating after every meal. I still look for it after meals.

Apart from its use as a mouth freshener, fennel has many other culinary uses, such as in powdered form in Kashmiri and Gujarati cuisine. It is also used in Assamese, Bengali, Oriya and Chinese spice mixes. Fennel leaves are milder in flavor and the bulb is also quite aromatic. Both leaves and the bulb are widely used in various forms. The leaves are used in salads, and the bulbs can be sautéed, grilled or even eaten raw.

Wikipedia suggests that fennel has medicinal uses such as the use of essence of fennel as a safe and effective herbal drug for primary dysmenorrhea, or menstrual cramps. It is also used to treat flatulence and is said to improve eyesight. Some studies have suggested that it is useful in the treatment of glaucoma. It may also be used for curing hypertension.

Its nutritional value comprises a high quantity of vitamin C, folate, manganese, potassium, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium,  phosphorous and vitamin B3. Some studies have shown that it helps reduce inflammation and even the occurrence of cancer. It is low in calories, and is a great thing to munch when you are on a weight watching spree and hunger strikes.

Fennel can be consumed in numerous ways, the most popular known to me is to dry roast its seeds and have it just as a snack. There are various forms of fennel seeds available, including sweetened, dry roasted, or green. My favorite recipe for fennel is making Kashmiri Aloo, or potatoes in Kashmiri style. Its a delightful recipe, and is another very simple preparation.

You can use baby potatoes for this dish, or the bigger potatoes, cut into small pieces. The original idea of dum aloo is to deep fry the potatoes, but you can bake them if you want to avoid the fat and keep the crispiness of the potatoes.

Ingredients:

2 tbsp. oil (or for frying, if you choose to fry the potatoes)

2 lb. potatoes (choose baby potatoes or bigger ones)

1 cup Yoghurt

1 cup water

2 tbsp. fennel powder

1 tsp garam masala powder

1/8 tsp asafetida

salt to taste

2 tsp red chilly powder

2 tsp ginger, minced

2 tsp coriander powder

Method:

If you choose to fry the potatoes, heat sufficient oil in a pan, and deep fry the potatoes. Once they are fried, set aside and make the gravy. If you prefer to bake them, spread them out on a baking sheet and coat them with a little bit of oil. Preheat oven to 425 degree Fahrenheit (or approx. 220 degree centigrade). Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Once your potatoes are ready, heat 2 tbsp. oil in a pan. Add asafetida and ginger and mix well. Wait for ginger to change color. Mix the yogurt and water, and add to the pan. The water is required to bring the yogurt to a consistency that is good for gravy. If your yogurt is not very thick, adjust the quantity of water accordingly. Add red chilly powder, coriander powder, garam masala, salt and fennel powder. Add the potatoes to the gravy and mix well. After a few seconds, cover and cook for 7-10 minutes. Keep stirring and check on the potatoes regularly. After about 10 minutes, cook in an open pan till gravy is reduced to desired quantity. This preparation works well both, with and without gravy.

That’s it! Simple and very tasty. Bon apetit!

This post is part of a series on health foods. Do visit my other posts on Avocado, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Dates and Eggs.

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