Appearances can be deceiving. Take fennel, there's something about its bulb shape, pale color and ribbed layers that always makes me think I won't like it in a dish, and yet I always do. It looks like it's going to be tough and flavorless, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Fennel, when served raw, is crunchy and slightly sweet and, when served cooked, is tender and intoxicatingly anise-scented. While it's easy to find in almost any produce section in the U.S., the Mediterranean is the region it's most associated with, especially Italy.

No wonder, as it's versatile and adds a bright note to any dish. Sliced thin and served with shards of Parmesan cheese, a few drops of fresh lemon juice and a generous drizzle of good quality olive oil is all you need for an easy, but elegant first course. When chopped and added to your favorite minestrone soup, you've transformed something good into something great.

Firing up the grill seems like a smart idea this week. Tossing a few shrimp on the grill seems like an even better idea, and while the coals are burning, add a few veggies to the mix. The result will be Grilled Shrimp, Fennel and Orange Salad.

Oranges and fennel have a natural affinity to one another. The mild licorice flavor of the fennel pairs beautifully with the bright acidity of the oranges. Both work well to balance out the richness of the shrimp. The combination of the three, along with sweet grilled red onions, fresh baby lettuce and a sprightly orange vinaigrette, makes for a light meal that you can serve on a Tuesday night to the family or at a Saturday night dinner party.

Grilled Shrimp, Fennel and Orange Salad

Serves 4.

Note: You can use a grill grate to grill the shrimp, or skewer them to avoid slipping through the grill. From Meredith Deeds.

• 3 tbsp. orange juice

• 1 tbsp. sherry vinegar

• 2 tsp. Dijon mustard

• 1 tsp. orange zest

• 1 tsp. honey

• 1/4 c. plus 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided

• 1/2 tsp. salt, divided

• 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, divided

• 1 large bulb fennel, sliced into 1/2-in. thick slices

• 1 large red onion, sliced into 1/2-in. slices

• 1 lb. large shrimp, peeled and deveined

• 8 cups baby lettuce

• 2 oranges, peeled and segmented

• 2 tbsp. chopped fresh mint


In small bowl, whisk together orange juice, vinegar, mustard, zest and honey. Slowly whisk in 1/4 cup olive oil and season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and set aside.

Preheat a grill to medium-high heat. Oil the grill rack if cooking seafood and vegetables directly on grill. Brush the fennel, onion and shrimp with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Place fennel and onion on the grill (or on skewers or on a grill pan) and cook, turning once, for 10 minutes or until tender. Remove and let cool.

Place shrimp on the grill and cook for 2 minutes per side, or until just done. Transfer to a plate.

Roughly chop the fennel.

In large bowl, toss the baby lettuce with 2 tablespoons dressing and place on serving plates. Arrange the shrimp, fennel, onion, orange segments and mint on top of the lettuce. Drizzle on more vinaigrette and serve.

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories320Fat18 gSodium500 mg

Carbohydrates23 gSaturated fat3 gTotal sugars14 g

Protein20gCholesterol130 mgDietary fiber7 g

Exchanges per serving: 1 vegetable, ½ fruit, ½ carb, 3 lean protein, 2 ½ fat.

Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at Follow her on Twitter ­at @meredithdeeds.