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The perfect summer fennel salad recipe

Arts and culture writer Justin Lee’s perfect summer fennel salad. Fennel provides a fresh twist to typically leafy green salads and turns them into vibrant flavorful dishes. JUSTIN LEE/THE STATESMAN

Leafy green salads have been a culinary staple for decades. From tableside caesars (which turn a century old this July) to artfully constructed wedges, it may feel like we have seen it all. Traditional greens just don’t bring much to the table; they are mostly shoved out of the spotlight in favor of their dressings and toppings. In a sea of the stale and mundane, non-leafy salads are a breath of fresh air, and this lemon sumac fennel salad is bound to reignite your love for vegetables. 

Fennel’s subtle liquorice sweetness and radishes’ earthy peppery crunch pair beautifully with the fruity tartness of sumac. Grapefruit and oranges also bring a lovely blend of bitterness and sweetness to the table, with mint adding a fresh background note. All this enveloped in a lemon vinaigrette makes for a super bright, citrusy and tangy bite that screams “summer is here!” And the best part? Fennel’s rigid structure means it’ll keep its crunch longer, so say goodbye to soggy greens. 

This light and bright salad is great on its own or served with fish or chicken. It screams of summer and bright flavors, so lean into that vision when dreaming up foods to pair this with. 

Caution:

Be very careful around mandolines, which are very sharp vegetable slicers. They yearn for your fingertips. This piece of kitchen equipment has reaped countless fingers in professional kitchens. When slicing, use an open-palmed grip and slide the ingredients across the blade with the flat base of your hand. Most importantly, forget that “one last slice.” A single sliver of fennel is not worth a trip to the emergency room. Just throw it out and stay safe. Alternatively, a very sharp knife works in its place. Just slice everything thinly and evenly. 

Citrus & Sumac Fennel Salad 

Active Time: 30 minutes 

Serves: 2 (entrées), 3-4 (side dishes)

Tools:

  • Small mixing bowl 
  • Whisk 
  • Mandoline or very sharp knife
  • Large mixing bowl 
  • Disposable gloves (optional)

Ingredients:

Lemon Sumac Vinaigrette: (makes about 1.5 cups)

  • ¾ cup olive oil 
  • 135 g lemon juice (about 3 lemons)
  • 7 g ground sumac
  • 5 g fine sea salt 
  • Black pepper to taste 

Citrus Fennel Salad:

  • 1 small fennel bulb, very thinly sliced 
  • 1 large pinch fennel fronds (tips)
  • 1-2 radishes, thinly sliced
  • 1 orange, zested and supremed
  • 1 grapefruit, zested and supremed
  • 8 mint leaves, chiffonade 

Instructions: 

  1. Whisk olive oil, lemon juice, sumac, salt and black pepper in a small bowl until the salt has dissolved. 
  2. Cut the root off the bottom of the fennel bulb. Then, in a curved motion, cut the fennel bulb from the stalks. Pick the fennel fronds, or tips, off the stalks and set aside. Discard the stalks.
  3. Very thinly slice the fennel and radishes on a mandoline or with a very sharp knife.
  4. Zest and supreme the orange and grapefruit. 
  5. Chiffonade, or very thinly slice, the mint. 
  6. In a large mixing bowl, gently mix the fennel, radishes, orange zest, oranges, grapefruit zest, grapefruits and mint with your hands until evenly combined.
  7. Add 4-5 tablespoons or ¼ cup of the lemon sumac vinaigrette and gently toss with your hands.
  8. Transfer to a bowl and enjoy!
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