Happy New Year everyone! We had a busy Christmas this year with lots of family and friend get togethers, which meant I spent a lot of time in the kitchen, but don’t get me wrong I enjoyed ever minute of it. This salad was my contribution to an after Christmas potluck dinner. It was the perfect side dish to offset all the rich food we’d been eating over the holidays. Even my sister-in-law, who doesn’t like fruit in her salad, ate all of the leftovers!
Do you ever cook with fennel? Personally, I think it’s an under-appreciated vegetable, probably because many people don’t know what to do with it. Fennel has a mild anise, or licorice flavour, and is extremely versatile. The white bulb can be eaten raw, like in the salad recipe below, or it can be cooked along with the tougher green stalks into pasta sauces, stir-fries, or any recipe which calls for onions or celery. You can use the wispy green fronds as a fresh herb on baked salmon or tossed into salads for a faint licorice flavour.
To prepare the fennel, remove the green stalks from the white bulb. Slice the bulb into quarters and remove the hard inner core. If your recipe calls for sliced fennel you can use a mandolin or simply slice diagonally with a sharp knife. For a nice side dish try cutting the fennel into 1 inch pieces, toss with olive oil and salt and pepper, and roast at 400F for 30-40 minutes until soft and golden brown.
To add texture to this salad I decided to julienne the vegetables, which is a fancy term for creating match stick shapes. For carrots, slice diagonally into long ovals, place each oval flat side down, and cut into long strips. Use the same technique for the apples.
Apple Fennel Salad with Candied Pecans
Recipe by Kirsten, serves 4-6
1 cup pecan halves
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon butter or oil
1 teaspoon water
optional add ins: pinch of salt, pepper, cayenne, cinnamon, cumin etc.
2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar or fresh lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons maple syrup, to taste
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 medium fennel bulb, sliced
1 large apple, julienned or grated
1 medium carrot, julienned or grated
½ red onion, sliced
Half of a 10oz bag of spinach
1/4 cup of crumbled feta
1/4 cup candied pecans
For the candied pecans: In a small pot or frying pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add brown sugar, nuts, water and add-ins if using. Stir constantly for 5 minutes until sugar is melted and nuts are evenly coated, be careful not to burn the sugar or nuts. Transfer nuts to a parchment-lined cookie sheet and allow to cool.
For the salad: In a large bowl, combine all of the dressing ingredients. Start with 1 tablespoon of maple syrup and taste, add more as needed. Add sliced fennel, apple, carrot and red onion to the dressing and stir to coat. Let it sit for at least 10 minutes to allow the vegetables to soak up the dressing. This can be prepared a few hours in advance and kept in the fridge until ready to use. The acidity from the dressing will keep the apples from browning.
When you are ready to serve the salad, add the spinach, feta and candied pecans to the fennel/dressing mixture and toss lightly until combined. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.