What’s the deal with? Fennel

Increase your vegetable vocabulary this spring and try some new foods! Ever seen a veggie in the grocery store and wondered what to do with it? Fennel is a tasty favorite often overlooked for just that reason – why not give it a try?


What is it? Fennel is crunchy and slightly sweet with a unique licorice-like flavor. Used mostly in Mediterranean dishes, it is often associated with Italian cooking. Fennel looks like celery stalks growing from a white bulb. At the tip of the stalks there are leaves that grow flowers which produce fennel seeds. The bulb, stalk, leaves and seeds are all edible.

Why should you eat it? Fennel contains powerful antioxidants rutin and quercetin, which help reduce inflammation and reduce the risk of cancer. It’s also rich in vitamin C, fiber, folate, and potassium

How to prep it? The base, stalks, and leaves can all be used in cooking. Cut the stalks away from the bulb at the place where they meet. To use the bulb, first cut it in half, remove the base, and then rinse it with water. The best way to slice it is vertically through the bulb, remove the hard core from the center before cutting it. The stalks can be used for soups, stocks and stews. Use the leaves as an herb like parsley.

How to eat it? Fennel is as versatile as it is unique. Here are a few quick and easy ways to add it to your meals:

  • Saute fennel and onions for a quick and tasty side dish.
  • Combine sliced fennel with avocados and oranges for a delightful salad (try this recipe).
  • Braised fennel is a great complement to pan-seared scallops, grilled shrimp or salmon.
  • Add sliced fennel to your sandwiches for lunch.
  • Top thinly sliced fennel with plain Greek yogurt and chopped mint leaves.


Danielle Omar, MS, RD
The Food Confidence Expert


What’s the deal with? Artichokes

Artichokes are a spring season vegetable that you should definitely add to your dinner table. They may seem a little intimidiating to cook with if you’ve never tried, but they really are worth getting to know. Artichokes were a staple in my house growing up – they are so versatile and fun to eat! If you love them but have never made them at home, here’s a how-to guide. Enjoy!

What is it? Artichokes are one of the oldest known foods and are actually the bud of a flowering plant. The bud contains the Heart, which is the meaty core of the artichoke, and a fuzzy center (or “choke”) surrounded by rows of edible petals, which protect the Heart. When you prepare an artichoke, you discard the center “choke” and eat the base of the petals, the center of the stem, and the entire artichoke Heart!

Why should you eat it? Artichokes are a true nutrition powerhouse. They have more antioxidants than both red wine and chocolate! Similar to fennel, artichokes contain a combination of the most powerful antioxidants quercetin and rutin (plus many more). In fact, they are one of the top ranked fresh vegetables you can eat, beating out both spinach and broccoli in studies. Artichokes are also rich in potassium, magnesium, Vitamin C and fiber.

How to prep it? Artichokes can be intimidating to prepare. After rinsing, the “top and tail” technique is the best way to prepare the artichoke for cooking. Click here to watch a step-by-step video! You can also buy just the hearts frozen from Trader Joe’s or the jarred variety at most grocery stores.

How to eat it?
Artichokes can serve as an appetizer, side dish or in the case of the Jumbo variety, a main entree.

Whole Artichokes
  • Easy baked artichoke (recipe here)
  • Cooled Artichokes can be filled with cold salmon, tuna, shrimp or chicken.
  • Brush with olive oil and grill until brown.
  • Stuff with Italian herb breadcrumbs and smoked Gouda cheese filling.
  • Serve as cold buffet dish.
  • Pour balsamic vinegar between the petals and finish on the grill.
Stems and Hearts
  • Slice Hearts and add to Asian sautés and stir-fries.
  • Slice and add as a tasty filling to your favorite omelet or quiche.
  • Use to create Artichoke dip, one of the world’s greatest appetizers!
Baby Artichokes
  • Quarter Baby Artichokes and add to baked pastas, fish and meat casseroles, stews, rice pilaf, and quiche.
  • Sprinkle with olive oil, garlic and pepper, and oven roast.

Click here for many more recipes and information about the Artichoke!

Danielle Omar, MS, RD
The Food Confidence Expert


Superfood: Turmeric

Last night for dinner I made a dish nostalgic of my grad school days — Curried Cauliflower. I know it’s a strange choice, but at JMU there is little in terms of ethnic food. On Friday nights, I would get take-out at the Indian American Cafe and it inspired me to experiment with curry on my own.

So today – much to my husband’s dismay – our house smells like an Indian dhaba. This is due to my favorite dish using many indian spices! Curry, coriander, ginger, and turmeric, which is getting a lot of press these days as a superfood. Why? Turmeric contains a substance called curcumin, which is largely responsible for its antioxidant powers – which have shown in studies to significantly lower LDL (the bad cholesterol) and raise HDL (the good stuff). It’s also been shown to decrease pain from arthritis, treat inflammatory bowel diseases (chrohn’s, colitis), slow and even stop cancer cell growth, and help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

That being said, I know you’re now dying to try my recipe, so here it is. Yes, there are a lot of spices, but don’t be scared. It’s good stuff.

Curried Cauliflower (with potatoes and chick peas)

  • 3 Tbsp olive or canola oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp curry
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp fresh ginger, chopped
  • 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2/3 cup chicken or veggie broth
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 -2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 large potatoes, chopped
  • 1 head cauliflower, chopped
  • 1 can drained and rinsed chick peas
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper

In a large skillet, saute the onions in the oil until soft; add curry powder, cumin, coriander, turmeric, garlic and ginger; cook, stirring, about 1 minute.

Add cauliflower, potatoes, chick peas, salt, ground pepper and red pepper flakes. Cook for about 4 minutes. Add 2/3 cup broth and lemon zest. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer for about 20 minutes, or until veggies are tender. Add more broth if needed. Before serving, sprinkle with cilantro and lemon juice. Yum!

Danielle Omar, MS, RD

The Food Confidence Expert

Beans, beans, good for your heart…

Okay, so I love beans. Probably too much. I’m always on the lookout for a new recipe and this one rocks. Greens, beans, cheese and nuts…what more could you want?

Recipe courtesy of one of my favorite websites, www.101cookbooks.com.

Giant Black Bean Salad

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 small jalapeño, seeded, de-viened and chopped
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 small garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon mustard
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 -3 big handfuls baby arugula (or other salad greens), well washed and dried
3 cups cooked black beans (rinsed, canned are fine)
1/4 cup feta, crumbled
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Start by making the dressing. I use an immersion blender – but a blender or food processor will work just as well. Combine the lime juice, vinegar, honey, jalapeño, salt, garlic and mustard and puree. Add the olive oil and puree until everything comes together. Taste and adjust with more salt, honey, or lime juice if needed. Set aside until you are ready to serve the salad.
Just before you are ready to serve the salad gently toss the arugula with a bit of the dressing. Arrange it on a platter. Now toss the beans and most of the almonds with a generous splash of the dressing. Arrange the beans on top of the arugula and finish by sprinkling with the remaining almonds and the crumbled feta cheese.
Serves 4 – 6.

3-Bean Salad with Quinoa

I love a recipe that uses Quinoa, a high protein, high fiber whole grain. Try this one for dinner tonight!

Clients: a 1 cup serving would count as 2 carbs at dinner or lunch!

Three-Bean Salad with Quinoa

Substitute any of the three beans with what you can get on sale, from your garden or fresh from the Farmer’s market. Canned garbanzos, pintos or black beans are fine, too!


1 cup uncooked quinoa
Salt and ground black pepper
1/2 pound green beans, trimmed, cut into 2-inch pieces, cooked and rinsed in cold water
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen shelled edamame, thawed
1/2 cup chopped roasted red peppers
1 (15-ounce) can Kidney Beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup Italian Dressing
1 teaspoon dried tarragon


Rinse quinoa under cold running water and drain. Bring 1 3/4 cups water to a boil in a small pot. Stir quinoa and a pinch of salt into water. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until tender and liquid is absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes. Uncover and let cool. Put cooled quinoa, green beans, edamame, peppers, kidney beans, dressing, tarragon, salt and pepper into a large bowl and toss well. Serve chilled or at room temperature.


Per serving (about 1 cup): 270 calories, 8g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 460mg sodium, 33g total carbohydrate (8g dietary fiber, 4g sugar), 17g protein

In Season: Asparagus

Nothing says Spring better than Asparagus! In season, inexpensive, and easy to make — now is the time to add these long stemmed delights to your grocery list and your dinner table.

Varieties: Asparagus comes in three colors: green, white, and purple. Most common is the long green kind. The white asparagus are grown totally underground and the purple grow with just their tips an inch or two above the earth. The flavor is about the same for all types, but the purple and white variety are sometimes less sweet and less stringy than the green.

How to pick: Look for bunches with firm stalks and tightly closed lids. The stem should be uniformly green from top to bottom and asparagus with large white ends should be avoided. Fresh asparagus has no odor at the tips — old asparagus has a strong and unpleasant odor. Store in the fridge with the stem ends wrapped in a moist paper towel for up to 3 days. To trim, cut off or snap ends.

Loaded with: Antioxidants, Vitamins A and C, potassium; high in fiber and low in calories.

How to prepare: Below are some quick, easy ideas for serving asparagus tonight!

  • Brush with olive oil, salt and pepper and lightly grill, broil or roast — then sprinkle with fresh grated Parmesan cheese
  • Create an asparagus stir fry with green and red peppers
  • Whip up an asparagus omelet with spring onions
  • Blanch and serve as an appetizer with yogurt dip or hummus
  • Steam and coat with your favorite vinaigrette salad dressing
  • Blanch and wrap in smoked salmon or prosciutto
  • Peel asparagus into ribbons and serve over spaghetti with shaved Parmesan

What’s your favorite way to enjoy fresh asparagus?