Growing up, my mom was a big fan of black licorice and bought it on occasion as a special treat. I still remember the first time she gave me some to try and how repulsed I was by the flavor. I can picture everything about the moment – the mini mart we were in, leaning in to smell the long black candy before I took a bite, eying the perfectly tasty red licorice right next to it wondering why my mom enjoyed this terrible smelling food so much. So, it’s no wonder that my mom never prepared or served me the healthy vegetable with a similar aroma and taste. Thankfully, over the years my palette expanded and one day I decided to give the licorice like fennel a try. While I still won’t touch the candy that turned me off all those years ago, I have grown to really enjoy fennel. My first introduction to it was simple – roasted with a little bit of olive oil. I’ve been wanting to find something interesting to do with this veggie other than roasting it, so after browsing some recipes, I came across this perfect sounding dish on Mediterranean Cooking In Alaska. Combined with two of my other favorite vegetables, leeks and beets and topped with a garlic and ginger dressing, this sounded right up my alley. The result? This salad has a really nice bite to it thanks to the dressing, and the textures combine to form something a little different than the usual salad. My only note would be to cut the leeks very small as they tend to get stuck in your mouth. Here’s the recipe from Mediterranean Cooking In Alaska….
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 cup peeled and minced fresh ginger
1 tsp. honey
2 Tbsp. red wine or sherry vinegar
1 tsp. whole coriander, crushed
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
4 medium beets, peeled and roasted (see NOTE below)
1 large fennel bulb (3 cups thinly sliced)
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 leek, white and light green parts only (1 1/2 cups thinly sliced)
Mix all the dressing ingredients together.
Cut each beet in lengthwise quarters, and each quarter into 3 wedges. Stir the beets into the dressing. (This can be done several days ahead.)
Cut the stalks off the fennel bulb and reserve for another use. Using a vegetable peeler or sharp knife, remove any darkened or damaged portions of the bulb. Cut the fennel bulb into quarters. Cut out and discard the fennel’s core. Cut the fennel quarters crosswise into vey thin slices (using a mandolin makes this task go quickly), and toss with 1 Tbsp. lemon juice (this prevents the fennel pieces from discoloring).
Cut the white and light green parts of the leek in half lengthwise. Rinse the leek under running water, separating the layers to remove any trapped dirt. Cut the leek crosswise into very thin slices. Stir the leeks into the sliced fennel. (This can be done several hours ahead.)
Spread the fennel and leeks over a large plate or individual salad plates, making an indentation in the center for the beets. Lift the beets out of the dressing with a slotted spoon and place in the indentation. Drizzle the salad with dressing and serve immediately.
NOTE on Roasting Beets: Preheat the oven to 400°F. Wash the beets, cut off the greens leaving an inch of stem (don’t cut into the beet itself), rub the beets with olive oil, and wrap tightly in a foil packet (or place in a tightly covered baking dish). Bake for 40 minutes to 1 1/2 hours, depending on the size of the beets and how fresh they are. The beets are done when they’re tender if poked with a knife or skewer. Let the beets cool, and slip off their skins (I wear gloves when I do this to protect my hands from staining). (These can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator for about a week.)