Fennel seeds are such a mainstay of Indian cooking that I’m always surprised when I don’t see more fennel bulbs cropping up in everyday food. If there’s ever a fragrance of a herb that I want lingering on me after I’m done cooking, it’s definitely that of fennel frond. Finely sliced, uncooked fennel adds oodles of an anise-like fragrance to a salad and has a crunchy texture much like that of a celery stalk. And here’s the best part – it has the faintest hint of licorice when eaten like that. Hallelujah! I’ll do anything for a hint of candy in my salad – it’s like eating salad and dessert in one go! But all that changes drastically when fennel is cooked, like in this soup. The licorice flavour is highly diminished and its freshness is enhanced. Making it the perfect accompaniment for all our other ingredients in the soup.
A zested lemon adds the perfect note of acidity, and because we like our _mirchi_in India, a pinch of red chilli flakes are always welcome to the balancing act. Our favourite onions and garlic are in there too, in fact we start with heating up some olive oil and sautéing chopped onion until it is pale golden. Then it’s like conducting your own little orchestra as you add some minced garlic, lemon zest and chilli flakes.
P.S. I think that the mere act of reading about Zubin Mehta’s recent concert in Srinagar seems to have had a deep enough impact on my impressionable little mind! Don’t you think?
Anyyyyway, I’ll try not to conduct my own little recipe-orchestra as I tell you about adding the chopped up fennel and letting it get coated in the mix we’ve got going so far. If you’ve never handled fennel before, here’s a great video to get you started. Pour in the stock and bring the entire mix to a boil. Now, you could either use a pressure cooker for this soup, but please don’t sweat if you don’t have one. In the pressure cooker, you’ll have to just give it 2 whistles, or otherwise, in a heavy bottom pan, cover the mixture and let it simmer gently for about 20 minutes.
After letting it cool, it’s just quick blitzing and the FINAL addition of milk, bring it to a quick boil and quick seasoning if required. And there, it’s DONE!
That was easy, wasn’t it? That too with ingredients that are probably lying around in your kitchen! Add some crusty bread to the party and you’ve got a hearty meal that feels light, tastes fresh and is a treat for the senses as you eat! As Julia Child would say, BON APPETIT.