Fennel

Here’s a bright idea: try a bulb of fennel.

Ever notice the bowl of candy-coated seeds at the host stand of an Indian restaurant? That’s mukhwas, an after-meal treat meant to freshen the breath and aid in digestion. Mukhwas (mukh = mouth; vas = smell) is predominantly fennel seeds.

So why eat a vegetable known as an exotic mouthwash? For the same reason we eat any vegetable: it’s delicious and healthful. Fennel packs that rare anise/licorice taste. It works well — both the bulb and foliage — raw when shaved or sliced thinly into salads. The bulb can also be grilled or roasted, both caramelizing effects which sweeten and tone down the anise flavor.

Fennel’s greatest attribute may be its storied history. The vegetable plays a part in several Greek myths, and to this day is attributed with a wide range of medicinal qualities, from improving eyesight to increasing breast milk production. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow honors fennel in his poem The Goblet of Life:

Above the lowly plants it towers,
The fennel, with its yellow flowers,
And in an earlier age than ours
Was gifted with the wondrous powers,
Lost vision to restore.
It gave new strength, and fearless mood;
And gladiators, fierce and rude,
Mingled it in their daily food;
And he who battled and subdued,
A wreath of fennel wore.

If that doesn’t convince you to try fennel, nothing will.

Storage

Choose fennel bulbs that are a crisp white or palest green. Fennel will keep in a refrigerator’s vegetable crisper for up to a week, though its flavor will become milder over time.