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Persian-Inspired Caramelised Fennel Salad with Yoghurt & Garlic

Persian-Inspired Caramelised Fennel Salad with Yoghurt & Garlic

This morning as I was puttering around the kitchen I had a sudden craving for a salad of tender shoots of wild tumble thistle and yoghurt (kangar mast). We’ve just returned from a holiday and have not done our vegetable shopping yet. Even if we had, wild tumble thistle shoots would obviously not be available anywhere here.

I opened the fridge and stared at the quite empty vegetable drawers.There were a few fennel bulbs in the bottom drawer. It occurred to me to use the fennel to make something similar to what I was craving for and this caramelised fennel salad recipe which will definitely be a keeper with me was born. Necessity is the mother of invention as the saying goes…

Fennel-recipe
Fennel (or Florence fennel to be more precise) has a mild anise flavour that softens with cooking.

Fennel is not a vegetable commonly grown in Iran. Once in a while if I were lucky I would find a few small bulbs at the exotic fruit and veg stalls of my favourite market in Tehran. Living in the UK now I often have some in the fridge for making my Tomato & Fennel Salad with Vegan Pistachio Pesto or my favourite fennel, orange and olive salad with balsamic vinegar dressing.

Tumble thistle (kangar in Persian, akkoub in Arabic, kenger in Turkish, kereng in Kurdish) grows all over the place in the Middle East and is widely used in Persian, Armenian, Kurdish, Turkish and Levantine cuisines. This plant is related to artichoke and cardoon. While the edible part of the artichoke plant is its flower bud, cardoons are grown for the celery-like leaf stalks. Kangar, however, is the young shoot of the plant that has barely reached the ground level. The grown plant is very thorny and inedible.

kangar
Young wild thistle shoots are very thorny at the top and need a lot of cleaning. They are available for a short time during spring. Young thistle shoots (top) and grown plant (bottom).

This amazing seasonal wild vegetable is quite neutral in flavour but becomes very tasty with cooking. It’s also believed to have lots of health benefits. I must admit that the flavour of cooked fennel wasn’t the same as kangar but I’m so happy I trusted my instincts because the combination of caramelised fennel and yoghurt turned out really delicious. It’s the kind of flavour Iranians like very much. A dish of cooked vegetables with yoghurt, often with garlic too, is called

A dish of cooked vegetables with yoghurt, often with garlic but very lightly spiced, is called borani or burani in Persian. The most common are spinach (borani esfenaj) and aubergine/eggplant borani (borani bademjan). My 16th-century cookbook also mentions truffle borani and wild asparagus borani. More on borani in future posts hopefully.

purple-artichoke
Artichoke is the flower of a cultivated thistle. Artichoke hearts can be made into borani too, I reckon. 

This salad keeps well in the fridge for several days and gets even better as flavours mix. Now it’s time for the recipe:

 

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 fennel bulbs, thickly sliced
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 big cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground white or black pepper
  • 250ml thick yoghurt
  • A pinch of dried rose petals to garnish

Method:

  1. Heat two tablespoons of the oil in a frying pan on medium heat and sauté the sliced fennel until lightly caramelised. Remove and set aside.
  2. Add the rest of the oil to the pan and fry the chopped onions until lightly caramelised. Add the garlic, salt and pepper and cook for a minute. Return the fennel to the pan. Add 1/4 cup of water, cover and gently braise for about ten minutes or until all the water has evaporated and the fennel is soft.
  3. Mix or layer the cooked fennel in a dish with yoghurt. Garnish with fennel fronds and rose petals.