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May 7, 2009

Anise seed (Recipe: beet and fennel salad) {vegan, gluten-free}

Anisebeetsalad1

When I first moved to Rhode Island, and was still learning the ropes, I asked a teenager working in the produce department in our town's grocery store if he had any fennel.

"What's that?" he replied, with the blankest of blank stares.

"Fennel," I tried again. "It's a vegetable, looks kind of like bok choy, with green stalks on top..."

Another customer came to my aid. "Oh," she explained to the grocery kid, "she means anise."

Anise. That's the way it is, here. Fennel is anise.

So I wondered: if fennel is anise, is fennel seed the same as anise seed?

Aniseseed

No. Not at all. Not really, though they have some things in common.

Both have a kind of licorice aroma and flavor, and both are related to parsley. That's where the similarity ends.

Anise seed comes from Pimpinella anisum, a plant native to the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East but also now cultivated in Spain and Mexico, and easy to grow from seed in your own garden.

Its use is documented as far back as 1500 BC, when anise seed was best known as a digestive aid, an aphrodisiac, and a warder-offer of The Evil Eye.

In modern times, though, anise lends its distinctive flavor to breads, cakes and cookies, and also to three classic liqueurs: pastis, anisette and ouzo.

Anise pairs well with fish and seafood, root vegetables, chestnuts, figs and apples. If you're a baker, try fig and anise bread, orange-anise biscotti or pistachio-anise wafers; or you might like anise and fennel seed carrot soup, pomegranate borscht, roasted asparagus with anise, or bouillabaisse.

Purchase the seed whole, to retain the maximum flavor. Grind as needed in a mortar, or crush it with a heavy frying pan or rolling pin.

That's how we do it here in Rhode Island.

Anisebeetsalad2

Beet and fennel salad

The flavor of this salad gets better when made a few hours in advance, or even the day before. Serves 8.

Ingredients

1-1/2 lbs cooked beets, cut into quarters (can use pre-cooked fresh beets from the produce section)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Kosher or sea salt
Fresh black pepper
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1 cup diced fennel bulb (save some fronds for garnish)
1/2 tsp crushed anise seeds*

Directions

Cut each beet into small chunks. In a medium bowl beat together with a fork the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Stir in the onion, fennel bulb, and anise, then mix in the beets gently. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve, garnished with fennel fronds.

*To crush anise seed, either use a mortar and pestle, or smash the seeds with a heavy frying pan or rolling pin.

 

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Fennel, pear and olive salad
Vietnamese pho bo
Potato and swordfish tortino
Vegetable medley with five-spice dip
Honey-roasted beets with orange and thyme

Need more ideas for how to create salads with pizzazz? Get Dress Up Your Salad, my e-book packed with easy mix-and-match recipes, full-color photos and a few fun videos. Exciting salad recipes from everyday ingredients can be just one click away, on any computer, tablet or smart phone, with the FREE Kindle Reading app. Click here to learn more.

Comments

What a great picture of two of my husband's favorite things - fennel and beets - anything anise is okay with him and I enjoy that flavor immensely. I frequently use fennel in salads or just to chomp on for a nosh. It has become more expensive recently but it will be worth the splurge to try this salad.

Louise: Me too! I love fennel and beets! The Perfect Pantry has had some great recipes for them.

Fennel is "anise" here in New Hampshire too, as it was the last place we lived, Hopkinton Mass. Must be a New Englandism, like "wicked good." But at least you can find it now at places other than Bread & Circus (which Whole Foods will always be to me).

You're reeeally trying to convince me to try fennel again, aren't you? :)

I love beets. Love them. Beautiful salad and I love the anise.

What a lovely alternative to the now overtrodden beet-and-bleu-cheese salad. Which I still love, mind you! But anise must really brighten it up

Fennel seed is probably my favorite 'alternative' seasoning. I need to do more with anise. When I think of anise, I think of Sambucca like liquors.

Yummy times 2! Just to muddy the waters further: Fennel or finocchio is more precisely called "sweet anise", meaning the plant is edible as a vegetable. "Anise" which is grown for the seeds, is too woody to be edible and doesn't have a pleasant flavor, so it's not usable as a seasoning. Anyways, another coincidence: Yesterday, with a heat wave starting, I mixed myself a tall sparkling water with Herbsainte. Anise-y refreshment! And it was the first time I'd thought of doing that; spooky!

I, unlike most of my family, adore beets. I like the sound of this combination.

So, anise and fennel are the same plant, but anise seed comes from a different plant? So very interesting! I had no idea. Your anise seeds certainly look different from fennel seeds, which are longer and skinnier. With fennel I like to just snack on the seeds. When using them in cooking, I like to toast them first, before grinding. Same with anise seeds?

Louise, I've noticed, too, that the price of fennel creeps up, but in summer I can buy it at the farmers' market at a reasonable price. I never used to like raw fennel, but when I slice it very thinly on the mandoline, I really love the flavor.

Jean, nice to know that it's also a NH thing; I never remember seeing fennel called anise in Boston, but I surely do remember Bread & Circus.

Maris, I am!

Noble Pig, the color is quite seductive, almost as much as the taste.

Sean, I love beets and bleu cheese (also beets and feta), but it's nice to have a salad without the cheese but with a flavor that balances the softness of the beets.

Joan, would love to know more about how you use fennel seed. I love it but don't use it as much as I should or could.

Jenna, there must be something in the air.... or perhaps I am reading your mind! Fennel and the anise grown for seed are two different plants -- and the fennel grown as a leafy herb in my garden is not the same as the "sweet anise" or fennel bulb. Confusing!

Pam, lucky you -- you get all the beets to yourself! My husband adores beets, and while I like them, too, I often sneak a few more onto his plate.

Elise, it is truly confusing! Fennel bulb is often called anise, or sweet anise; fennel grown for seed in the garden is often a different variety (not the bulb); anise seed comes from an entirely different plant. What they all have in common is the flavor of licorice. Anise seeds are often used as is, not toasted, but if I'm toasting several different seeds for a spice blend, I'll toast the anise, too.

I use anise seed, and extract, when making biscotti. The only place I've encountered fennel seed is in Italian sausage. Funny, I like the taste of both and licorice but can't stand tarragon which, to me anyway, has a similar taste.

What a great combo....I love beets and fennel (oops Anise) and never thought to use them together. I need a new dish for my Weight Watchers adventure and this might be it. YUM.

Constance, tarragon does have a bit of the licorice flavor, but not as sharp (to me, at least) as anise seed or fennel seed.

Cindy, this is quite a light dish, yet rich enough that it will give good "mouth feel". And if you use the pre-cooked beets, it really cuts down on the mess, too.

Lydia, anise with beets sounds fab...again this appeals to my Greek senses. I would just add some garlic. Beets love garlic.

Peter, garlic is good in almost everything, isn't it?

Mmmmm. That sounds like something I'd love :)

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  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my log house kitchen in rural northwest Rhode Island, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives.

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