This fennel, orange, and watercress salad is easy to make and even easier (and far more pleasing) to look at. Its tangy lemon and honey vinaigrette can both start and stop conversations, which is exactly how we like our salads.
If the lovely appearance of this salad of fennel, orange, and watercress isn’t sufficient to start conversations as well as bring them to an abrupt stop, its sprightly citrus zing oughta do the trick. Easy to make, pleasing to look at. That’s how we like our salads.–David Leite
How to segment citrus fruit
Learning how to segment citrus fruit is a cinch. For starters, you’ll need to reach for a sharp knife. Lop off about 1/2 inch from the top and bottom of the oranges to expose the flesh. Place the fruit on one of its flat ends and use the knife to follow the curve of the fruit as you remove the colored peel and the underlying white pith. Rotate and repeat, working your way around the fruit, until the citrus fruit is completely exposed. Then work your way around each fruit, slipping the knife between the citrus and the white membrane and freeing the individual segment so they slip out. It’s best to work over a bowl or a rimmed cutting board so you can capture the stray citrus juice.
Fennel, Orange, and Watercress Salad
- 3 large oranges preferably navel (seedless)
- Grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon preferably organic (about 1 packed teaspoon)
- 1 small shallot peeled and grated (about 1 tablespoon)
- 2 teaspoons runny honey
- 2 to 3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves (optional)
- 7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 1/2 ounces watercress trimmed
- 1 small to medium fennel bulb cored and very thinly sliced
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- First, peel and segment 2 of the oranges. (Never segmented citrus before? Not to worry. Simply follow the instructions in How to segment citrus fruit above.) Set the segments aside and toss the peels and white membranes in the compost. Pour any juice into a bowl.
- Squeeze as much juice as you can from the remaining orange and dump it in the bowl with the other juice. You should have about 7 tablespoons (100 milliliters). Add the lemon zest, shallot, honey, and thyme. Add the oil gradually, whisking constantly, until everything is emulsified. Season with a little salt and pepper.
- Arrange the watercress on a large platter or individual plates and then scatter the fennel on top. Arrange the orange segments over everything. Whisk the vinaigrette to recombine and then drizzle as much or as little as desired over the salad just seconds before serving. (Cover and refrigerate any remaining dressing for up to several days.)
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Recipe Testers’ Reviews
This classic combination of flavors is one that should be in everyone’s recipe collection. You really can’t go wrong with the taste of juicy, sweet oranges, especially this time of year, along with crunchy, licorice-flavored fennel and peppery watercress. Plus, it’s as healthy as can be!
What really brought this specific recipe together for me was the yummy vinaigrette. I loved the brightness of this vinaigrette—the lemon zest, shallot, sweet honey, and fresh thyme made a lovely finishing touch on the classic salad. It’s a vinaigrette that works really well with this specific recipe but also is a simple vinaigrette recipe to have handy for other dishes as well. I would not make the thyme optional, as I thought it really elevated the vinaigrette!
This recipe was also a nice teaching recipe in terms of flavor combinations and how to segment citrus and properly cut fennel. A simple recipe but one to always keep in your recipe folder!
What a delightful and refreshing salad! I’ve enjoyed the combination of fragrant fennel and orange flavor before. Now I know that peppery watercress is a fantastic addition to the mix. If you prefer “synchronized” textures, you may want to adjust the thickness of the fennel slices depending on the size of your watercress. I sliced mine about 1/8-inch thin, but I feel they could have been a bit thinner, as my watercress was young and delicate, more like shoots rather than mature plants with stems like those of large parsley.
The tasty dressing is also a blend of great flavors and aromas. I love the hint of lemon in the orange juice, and the shallot gives it a nice savory flavor. This salad would be great to serve with a variety of main dishes, from a rich course, such as lamb, duck, or pork roast, to something lighter, like grilled shrimp. I’d be happy to enjoy the salad alone for lunch—walnuts sprinkled on top would be nice to make it a fuller vegetarian meal.
This is a lovely salad. The ingredients combine to make something beautiful and refreshing with a clean, pure taste. We ate this with wild king salmon, a match made in culinary heaven.
I added 7 tablespoons of the orange juice from the third orange to the vinaigrette. It had a very thin taste. I added 2 more tablespoons of olive oil at that point. It improved the vinaigrette tremendously. I sliced the fennel very thinly using a mandoline. The first half of fennel yielded so much that I did not slice the second half. It was more than enough for the amount of orange segments as well as the watercress. I sprinkled some fresh orange zest, over the salad before serving it. It was really beautiful to look at, and it improved the taste quite a bit.
We really enjoyed this salad as a lunch dish. Because we were using it for a meal rather than as a starter, our portions were larger, and the recipe served 2 of us with enough for a small salad the following day (we did not dress all of the salad ingredients so we were able to hold some of them over for another day). Using the recipe as a first course or as a course following a rich entrée, the salad would easily serve 4. The combination of watercress, fennel, and orange works very well, and the vinaigrette helps to bring everything together.
We didn’t taste the lemon zest in the vinaigrette, but I would still include it in the preparation since lemon functions as a flavor enhancer and helps to punch up flavors that might be too subtle without it. I agree that the thyme could be optional or used in a lesser amount.
This salad gives you a nice blend of flavors. The watercress is slightly peppery and mildly bitter. It doesn’t overwhelm the salad like a stronger green might and is complemented by the sweetness of the orange. The subtle anise of the fennel comes through, and the crisp texture contrasts with the soft greens and orange. The dressing, based on orange juice, is somewhat sweet, but is grounded by the shallots and thyme.
This makes for a well-composed salad, and a perfect light component for your fall, winter, and early spring menus. I would not make the thyme optional, although other herbs would work. Rosemary might be nice, if finely minced.
This salad was light and refreshing and a perfect way to highlight winter citrus! Overall, I found everything to be very tasty. The dressing had great flavor, though I thought there was too much thyme. (I used 3 tablespoons.) Also, this makes more dressing than is needed.
This is a good basic recipe for an orange and fennel salad. The dressing was nice and light and the classic combo of orange and fennel pairs nicely. I think maybe a nice shaved pecorino cheese or some toasted nuts would have elevated it.
Originally published December 19, 2015
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
This is a beautiful and refreshing salad—easy to make and pleasing to look at.
Total hands-on time, including making the vinaigrette, was less than 15 minutes. Segmenting the oranges took 5 minutes. Grating the lemon zest and shallot took 2 minutes, and I used a mandoline to slice the fennel after I’d cored it, another 5 minutes. Once the slicing and grating is done, the salad takes only a minute to assemble and drizzle with the dressing. I think this salad is best displayed on a pretty platter to show off the contrast of the colors. We served this with a delicate poached fish and had a light and satisfying meal.
The only thing I’d do differently next time is to make more.