I learned to prepare cabbage years ago from my Indian mother-in-law, and though I've never seen her cook fennel, I expect she might treat it in the manner she does cabbage. In my usual American way I've drawn from that inspiration, then tossed the northern spices (coriander, turmeric and ginger) together with those beloved in the south (curry leaves and black mustard seeds). The fennel adds sweetness and pizzazz to the sometimes bitter and mellow cabbage—if a slight diversion from the expected family dish. My husband rolls his eyes as I stir, but he takes a taste anyway. You'll find fresh curry leaves at any Indian market, or if you live in a mild climate, purchase a plant so you'll have the fresh leaves available anytime. —Ann S
Cut fennel bulb in half lengthwise, remove the tough core, and thinly slice halves. Cut onion in half and slice thinly.
Heat 2 to 3 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add mustard seeds, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, red pepper and curry leaves to the pan. Cook until fragrant and seeds begin to pop (30 seconds or so). Add onion to the pan and cook for a few minutes. Add ginger, garlic and fennel. Sprinkle with turmeric, coriander and a couple of large pinches of salt, and stir all the ingredients to combine. Cook for several minutes until the vegetables begin to brown. Add cabbage and cook for another couple of minutes until all the vegetables soften. Add several splashes of water to cover the bottom of the pan, cover pan with a lid and allow the vegetables to cook until the fennel and cabbage are nearly tender and much of the water has cooked off. Uncover and add tomatoes to the pan. Stir, turn up the heat to medium-high and cook the vegetables further until the water has cooked off entirely, fennel and cabbage begin to brown, even scorch here and there, and the tomatoes break down a bit. Stir gently now and then.
Taste and add salt as needed, plus a squeeze of lemon juice to taste. If you like, serve with warm chapatis (whole wheat flat bread) and yogurt mixed with salt and ground roasted cumin seeds (a simple raita)