Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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Wild fennel is one of the easiest aromatic plants to recognize on the trail thanks to its telltale licorice fragrance and tall green stalks. When I visited the Greek island of Crete with my family, we all fell in love with one particular recipe–Cretan wild fennel pies called marathopites.
We couldn’t believe that small neighborhood restaurants would serve delicacies prepared with foraged ingredients. Have you ever heard of mom and pop joints serving pies made with wild herbs picked in the mountains? It made the pies all the more delicious and when I returned home, I looked for a recipe and places to find wild fennel in abundance. Fortunately, in southern France where my father lives, wild fennel grows literally wild everywhere in the summer when the green fresh leaves are ready to be harvested. We visit in the summer and it takes absolutely no effort to stop on the roadside in front of vineyards and forage to my heart’s content.
Summer is the season when you can find these few fresh, tender leaves at the base of the tall fennel stocks that dot the Languedoc region. Large and small crowns of tiny yellow flowers adorn the top of fennel clusters that line the roads or grow at the edge of the sea. The flowers will soon become green seeds that can be dried for further use.
It took me less than 10 minutes to forage the wild fennel leaves needed for this recipe. This was my basket in preparation of dinner, full of fragrant tender green leaves (also called fronds).
The longest part of the recipe was probably rolling out the dough into circular pies, filling them with a onion-wild fennel mix, pinching them into a parcel and rolling them flat again. I’d say this was 2/3 of the entire recipe time, as cooking was fast and foraging too. Here are a few pictures to illustrate the steps described in the recipe below.
If you live in a fennel-rich region, these pies make delicious vegan starters for family meals and they’re very cheap. My girls love them hot right out of the pan, sprinkled with sea salt. If you want to make them ahead of time, you can keep them warm in an oven at low temperature while you finish frying your batch but they do tend to lose the crispness of the last-minute cooking.
I hope that these will inspire you to look at wild fennel differently during your days out as a family.
For the record, I tried the same recipe with wild fennel seeds (instead of leaves) out of interest and it was a failure. Everybody at the dinner table thought they these were stringy and too strong in “herbal” taste. Two kids told me downright that they didn’t like them. Frankly, neither did I.
Stick with the soft green leaves and you will do great.