Fennel lends virtually all of its parts -- including its seeds, leaves and bulb -- to recipes ranging from side salads to puff pastry tarts. Whether you're cooking for someone with a rare fennel allergy, you don't like the taste of the veggie or you simply find yourself shorthanded, you have plenty of options for fennel substitutes -- the key lies in replicating the elements of fennel's taste highlighted by your recipe, such as its subtle sweetness or licorice-like flavor.
For a close taste equivalent, simply sprinkle anise seeds on your recipe in place of fennel seeds to provide a licorice flavor and hint of sweetness. Fennel seeds typically serve as a seasoning, so if you simply need the replicate the anise flavor they provide and not the slight crunch, a dash of anisette or anise liqueur also does the trick.
Leave In the Leaves
If you find yourself short on fennel leaves, try subbing in unsprayed avocado leaves for a mild, almost creamy tasting alternative that also features a slight anise flavor. Likewise, hoja santa leaves have an anise flavor with a more peppery bite – imagine a taste similar to sassafras root beer – and a smoother texture. You can find either of these leaves at grocers that stock Mexican cooking ingredients. Parsley offers a more accessible substitute, though it brings a cooler, brighter tone to the recipe.
Celery serves as perhaps the most accessible substitute for fennel bulb, though you'll lose of the anise flavor of your recipe. Bok choy also works for savory recipes; it packs a little more bite than fennel, but retains a similar texture. For a less bitter bulb substitute that offers a subtle lemony taste, go with artichoke hearts.
More Fennel Tips
Different parts of the fennel, or Foeniculum vulgare, plant can stand in for each other. For instance, just about a spoonful of fennel seed packs just as much fennel flavor as a 1-pound bulb, and chopped fennel seeds easily stand in for the hard-to-find fennel pollen, which shows up in some roast recipes. If you're into picking your own veggies and seasonings, don't confuse fennel with the similar looking wild hemlock, as the latter plant is extremely toxic.