Anise-flavored fennel is an offbeat vegetable that’s often overlooked. Sautéed fennel with leeks and mushrooms is a simple skillet side dish with lots of character.
This earthy vegetable skillet is especially welcome in fall and winter served with grain pilafs, pasta dishes, and casseroles. You can also use it top plain grains like quinoa, rice, barley, or farro.
Get to know fennel
Fennel is a unique vegetable with an anise flavor (mildly licorice, to put it in other terms) and celery-like texture can add variety to your cool-weather repertoire. And leeks are a member of the onion family with a lovely mild sweetness.
Fennel, an odd-looking vegetable that has celery-like stalks with dill-like leaves sprouting from a rounded, white-to pale green bulb. So it’s almost a three-for-one vegetable, and a wonderful way to add variety to the plant repertoire.
A little about leeks
There are several varieties of leeks, in addition to the common variety, including Chinese leeks, ramps, and baby leeks. You can learn more about all of them in our guide to leeks.
This recipe calls for common leeks, which are related to both garlic and onions. They have a milder, somewhat sweeter flavor than their cousins. When cooked, they have a lovely, almost silky texture.
Mature leeks look somewhat like giant scallions, with deep green, coarse leaves (which aren’t really usable other than for flavoring vegetable broth, then discarded) emerging from the usable white-to-pale green part.
One caveat in using leeks is that after cutting and separating the rings, they must be rinsed very carefully, as they’re grown in sandy soil. We’ll get more into that in the recipe.
Photos by Hannah Kaminsky, BittersweetBlog.com.
- 2 large or 3 medium leeks, white and palest green parts only
- 2 medium fennel bulbs
- 1 tablespoon olive oil, optional
- 2 tablespoons dry white wine or water
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 6 to 8 ounces cremini or fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced
- ¼ cup minced fresh parsley
- ¼ cup chopped walnuts or sliced almonds, toasted if desired
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- To prepare the leeks, cut off the tops just after the lightest green part (you can use the dark green parts, well washed, to make soup stock; otherwise, discard). Cut off the coarsely bristled end and discard as well.
- Cut the remaining white and palest green stalk in half lengthwise, then into 1/4-inch-thick half-rings. Place the half-rings in a colander and run water over them, separating them as you do, until completely clean. (Tip: If the leeks are very sandy, first put the slices into a bowl of water and swish around to loosen before transferring to a colander to complete the rinsing).
- Trim the stalks away from the fennel bulb. Quarter and slice the bulbs, then slice the stalks thinly. Reserve the delicate leaves.
- Heat the optional oil, wine, and lemon juice in a large skillet. Add the leeks, fennel, and mushrooms, and sauté over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the leeks are wilted and the fennel is tender-crisp, about 12 to 15 minutes. Add tiny amounts of water if needed to keep the skillet moist.
- When the vegetables are done to your liking, stir in the parsley and nuts. Season with salt and pepper.
- Scatter the reserved fennel leaves over the top (or save to garnish individual servings) and serve at once, straight from the skillet.
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