Pickled fennel is a quick way to add fun zippy flavor to any dish. The tangy, zesty taste is a great addition to sandwiches, salads and even eaten straight out of the jar.
I’m a sucker for fennel and its showy long fronds. Its been plentiful at the farmers market lately and I just can’t resist grabbing some every weekend.
For someone who does not enjoy licorice candy at all (although, I don’t like candy in general) the level of adoration I have for this vegetable is kind of surprising with its subtle licorice taste.
One of the few ways I’d yet to consume fennel was in a pickled state.
This had to be remedied because not only is fennel perfect for pickling, I happen to love pickled things even more than I love fennel.
It’s a match made in tangy heaven.
Quick pickling is an easy, time effective way to enjoy the tangy nature of a fermented vegetable without the hassle of waiting on natural fermentation to occur.
The difference between quick pickling and traditional pickling is that quick pickled vegetables are meant to be eaten right away (or within a span of weeks) rather than canned.
This speedy process is a great way to make a dish pop with tangy brightness. From tacos to salads, sandwiches to charcuterie boards, pickled vegetables like fennel add that missing zippy element to many savory dishes.
Fennel as a pickled vegetable
Fennel is a wonderful crispy vegetable that’s much more popular in Italy than it is the US. That said, it’s still widely available here and if you’re on the fence about this mildly licorice-tasting green, trying it in pickled form is a must.
Fennel is a great source of fiber and can help aid digestion. One of the reasons many Italians will munch on it after a meal prior to dessert.
Pickling fennel both softens the texture and tames the licorice flavor. It brings out the vegetable’s natural sweetness and the fennel takes on the spices and herbs used in the pickling process.
Pickled fennel is a great way to add interest and flavor to a dish. I especially love it in salads for a zippy bite and topping things like pizza or grain bowls.
How to make pickled fennel
To make this easy pickled fennel recipe, you’ll need:
- fennel bulb
- apple cider vinegar
- fresh lemon peel
- anise seeds
- garlic clove
Choose a medium sized fennel bulb. If smaller, use two. The bulb should be very thinly sliced for pickling. Using a mandoline slicer is best but a sharp knife and careful cuts can also work.
Once the fennel is sliced, add it to a glass jar along with the peppercorns, garlic and anise seeds.
Bring the water, apple cider vinegar, sugar, salt and lemon peel to a boil in a sauce pot. Once boiling, stir until the sugar and salt fully dissolve.
Turn off the heat and pour the brine into the glass jar until covering the fennel. You can add a few fronds and stem pieces from the fennel as well if desired.
Let the mixture sit until cooled to room temperature. At this point, the fennel will be sufficiently pickled to eat. Transfer to the refrigerator with an affixed lid to chill and store. The quick pickled fennel will keep for up to 3-4 weeks in the fridge.
Pro tip – The vinegar will likely turn the fennel bulb from its bright white natural color to a slightly yellow hue. This is normal when pickling, don’t worry that something has gone wrong.
Pickling mix options
The wonderful thing about pickling is how adaptable the brine mixture is. The opportunity to play around with the spices and herbs is endless so you can really customize the process to what you like and/or have on hand.
Premade pickling mixtures exist in stores but they’re really not worthy buying when you can easily pickle with things already in your spice cabinet.
Things like the lemon peel, garlic, peppercorns and anise seed in this recipe can all be substituted if desired.
Other spices to consider:
- mustard seeds
- fennel seeds
- allspice berries
- star anise
- orange zest
- fresh herbs
How to use pickled fennel
Once the fennel has cooled to room temperature and been chilled, it’s ready to enjoy. Personally, I can eat it straight from the jar as a snack and never tire of its tangy bite but there are so many ways to enjoy pickled vegetables like this.
Layer the fennel into sandwiches like this smoked gouda roast beef grilled cheese for something bright and peppy to liven up the smoked savory flavors.
Add it to a charcuterie spread with cheeses, jams, cured meats and fruit.
Make this pickled fennel citrus salad or top soups for zesty interest. Swap out traditionally pickled red onion or radishes in tacos for pickled fennel instead.
- 1 medium fennel bulb, thinly sliced
- 3/4 cup water
- 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 clove garlic, smashed
- 1/4 teaspoon peppercorns
- 1/4 teaspoon anise seeds
- 2-3 pieces fresh lemon peel
- Thinly slice the fennel bulb using a mandoline slicer or sharp knife.
- Add the sliced fennel to a glass jar along with the garlic clove, peppercorns and anise seed.
- Combine the water, vinegar, sugar, salt and lemon peel in a small sauce pot. Bring to a boil and stir until sugar and salt are dissolved.
- Turn off heat and pour the liquid into the jar until just covering the fennel.
- Let cool to room temperature then place the lid on the jar and transfer to the refrigerator. Pickled fennel will store in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 weeks.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Gina Matsoukas is an AP syndicated writer. She is the founder, photographer and recipe developer of Running to the Kitchen — a food website focused on providing healthy, wholesome recipes using fresh and seasonal ingredients. Her work has been featured in numerous media outlets both digital and print, including MSN, Huffington post, Buzzfeed, Women’s Health and Food Network.