With all the recent sweets, it was probably no shock that I’d jump on the chance to try a sweetener-free challenge. Early in the summer I tried to reduce my fruit consumption, to no avail, as local berries arrived and continued to excite me throughout the summer. In the fall, came the figs and apples. Now we have pomegranates, too.
This time, I tried caramelizing it like I do with onions. A long slow braise to express all the natural sugars while taming the boldness of the anise. Silky and sweet, I really enjoyed fennel this way. I sprinkled it with cumin and lemon juice for a second level of flavour. Then, it is tossed with quinoa in a punchy salad spiked with cilantro and dill with chunks of lemon. The Aleppo chiles added a nice wave of heat contrasting the sweet fennel. While caramelizing the massive amount of fennel, you may wonder how everything will fit into the salad, but trust me. It wilts a bit and I loved that this was a fennel heavy quinoa salad, instead of a quinoa heavy salad. Tossed overtop baby spinach, it was delicious . Two guesses as to where I got this recipe. With such focus on each ingredient, you might guess Denis Cotter, but no, it was from another great, Ottolenghi. It was reminiscent, but better, than his barley and pomegranate salad I made last year.
The original salad also calls for pomegranate arils, which I added for one serving, just as I started my sweetener-free challenge. It elevated the salad to a whole other dimension. I wonder if it was because I knew it was the last fruit I’d be having until the new year. 😉
Have you ever tried a sweetener-free challenge? Do you think I am nuts for trying it? 😉
Caramelized Fennel and Quinoa Salad with Cilantro and Dill
Adapted from Ottolenghi (Bon Appetit)
1 tbsp coconut oil
2 medium fennel bulbs (2 1/2 pounds), cored and cut lengthwise into 1/4″-thick slices
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 cup dry quinoa, rinsed
1.75 cups water or broth
1 lemon, supremed
1 tsp Aleppo chile flakes
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
4 cups baby spinach
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds/arils (from 1/2 small pomegranate) – optional
1. In a large non-stick skillet over medium heat, melt oil. Add fennel and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes until lightly brown. Reduce heat and continue to caramelize for another 20 minutes, or so. The fennel should become soft and caramelized. Stir in the lemon juice and cumin and cook for an additional minute to meld the flavours. taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Set aside.
2. Meanwhile, prepare your quinoa: In a small saucepan, bring water or vegetable broth to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, add quinoa. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until all of the liquid is absorbed, about 15-20 minutes. Keep covered for an additional 5 minutes to steam. Set aside.
3. Once quinoa and fennel is ready, cut off the skin of the lemon and supreme the lemon pulp. Allow all juices to fall into the quinoa. Stir in the chile flakes, cilantro, dill and spinach. Once fennel is ready, stir into the salad. Just prior to serving, stir in baby spinach and the optional pomegranate arils.