Saturday, April 7, 2012

fennel and grapefruit salad

Sometimes I like being able to transform a certain ingredient - it's what makes the cooking process fun and exciting for me. At other times though, sometimes I just want to leave it alone, and let the natural flavor of the ingredient really speak for itself. This salad is one of those really simple dishes - in which the flavors really shine.

I actually didn't think I would like fennel, until I tried it a number of years ago. It's not a vegetable that's common to the Philippines, where I grew up. When I came here to the US, I heard that fennel has a licorice-like flavor - which is not one of my favorite flavors. I think it's because I associated it with Twizzlers. Eeeewwww (sorry, just my personal opinion). However, for those of you who also don't like Twizzlers and thus stayed away from fennel for fear that the two things might taste the same, please reconsider. For me, fennel is NOTHING like Twizzlers. It's become one of my favorite vegetables. I've sauteed it, roasted it, braised it, used it in soup, used it in risotto, and eaten it raw - as a "dipper," or in salads like this one.

For this salad, just cut off the stalks of the fennel and the outer portion of the bulb (since we are using it raw, I take off the outer portion as it can be a bit tough). I slice it as thinly as I possibly can - the slices become almost translucent. A mandoline would be great for this purpose, but I don't have one as I'm trying not to clutter our already tiny kitchen. (But a very sharp knife does the trick; I usually sharpen my knives every week or twice a week depending on how much cooking I do). Then just scatter the fennel slices in a bowl. 

The grapefruit in here really shines as well - I love grapefruit to begin with, but the little bit of salt really enhances its sweetness and tang. Peel the grapefruit, then you can do the French supreme technique of taking the segments out, or do it by hand. I did mine by hand; as you can see the pieces are not perfectly segmented, but that is ok. It doesn't always have to be fussy. :) They are such pretty fruit anyway. See?

Then the next thing is the olive oil - do yourself a favor and choose the best, fruitiest, most flavorful extra virgin olive oil you can find. I used to be loyal to Paesano unfiltered EV olive oil, which I used to get at my favorite market. It's a little pricey, but it's a big bottle, and it is SO GOOD. I can't even explain it. I find that Trader Joe's (yes, Trader Joe's) California EV olive oil, while not really a close second, can be an ok substitute at a fraction of the price. I've just run out actually, though I gladly had enough for this salad. The next olive oil I want to try is Olio Santo, also a California olive oil, recommended by Ina Garten and available at Williams Sonoma. Even more pricey, but I've been really curious about this particular "liquid gold."

Lastly, the salt... if you can, try not to use regular table salt. Often regular salt has a somewhat metallic taste; I prefer kosher salt which is "softer" (I don't know how else to describe it). But for this dish I love to use a finer sea salt like fleur de sel, or Himalayan pink salt. 

When you have such few ingredients for a dish, I am willing to splurge a bit on quality ingredients. It's so worth it. It must sound like food snobbery, but it does make such a difference.

I would use 1 fennel bulb and 1 grapefruit for two people. What's in the bowl above is just half of each - a pretty good size serving as a starter.

Simplicity, at its best.

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Dianne Khu said...

I've never tasted fennel (or maybe I have, but didn't realize it). I'm imagining it would taste like lettuce (i.e. remember pechay baguio in the Philippines?)! :-)

Mia said...

Yes! I do remember pechay Baguio...but vaguely! Did it have a distinct flavor or was it more mild? I can't seem to compare the flavor of fennel with any of our local veggies back home... Try it at least once though! And I would probably also suggest trying it cooked at first so the flavor mellows out - in case you're unsure. I find that people really like it or really don't... It's one of those polarizing vegetables I think!

lily and mailé's mom said...

this looks really good! i like fennel- the seeds are good too!

a tutti clafouti! :)

Mia said...

Hey "Lily and Maile's Mom"! Nice to see you here :)

Interestingly, I'm not a big fan of fennel seeds... weird isn't it?

What do you make with fennel seeds? Do you use it a lot in Swiss cooking?

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