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This is a simple side dish or addition to a hearty salad. The key is to cook the fennel slices so they're golden and carmelized on top but still with some bite in the middle. When you cook fennel, it takes away the strong aniseed flavour and it becomes sweet and soft and delicious.
1 large fennel bulb or 2 small, sliced 1 cm thick
1 tsp fennel seeds
knob of butter
lug of olive oil
1 Tbsp caster sugar (optional)
Salt & pepper
1 cup (200g) pearl barley
100g feta cheese (or goats cheese)
Chopped herbs - dill, fennel fronds, mint or parsley
Toasted seeds & nuts - almonds, sunflower, pumpkin and/or pine nuts work well
Cook the barley in 2 cups of vegetable stock (I used vegetable boullion) for about 30 mins, until soft.
While that's cooking, heat a heavy bottomed frying pan over a medium-high eat. Add the butter and oil. Once it's hot and the butter starts to foam place the fennel slices in the pan so thay all have space to lie flat. Cook undisturbed for 2 minutes. Using tongs, turn over and cook for another 1-2 mintues until the surface is golden brown.
Remove the fennel from the pan. Keeping the pan on the heat, sprinkle the sugar into the pan along with the fennel seeds and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. (If omitting the sugar you can skip this step and just add fennel seeds, salt & pepper to the fennel). Let the sugar heat up so it starts to bubble and then add the fennel back to the pan. Toss the fennel slices in the sugary juices and then once again, allow it to cook on one side for 1 min and then turn over to cook the other side. Once the fennel is nice and crispy brown on the surface remove from the heat.
Serve with crumbled feta or goat's cheese, chopped herbs and some toasted nuts and seeds. To make a more filling salad you can add other vegetables, like grilled broccoli, asparagus or courgette.