Five years ago, Ted and I rebuilt the front path to our house and created a much larger space for growing herbs and perennials.
Our garden has it all: plenty of sun, plenty of mulch, plenty of water and homemade compost. For the most part, the deer leave it alone, though they occasionally nibble the parsley, and rabbits munch on the strawberries.
Without interference, however, we grow sage, rosemary, thyme, anise, lemongrass, horseradish. Oregano. Lavender. Tarragon. Chives. Perennials and annuals.
Yes, we have it all. All except dill weed.
Every year I put in three plants. Every year they fail. Sometimes it's a slow death, sometimes a quick bolt. The end is never pretty.
Thank goodness for friends with greener thumbs, and for good quality dried dill weed, which I now keep on my spice rack in the winter months.
Native to Central Asia, dill is a member of the parsley family, which makes me wonder why year after year I grow the most robust and delicious parsley in my herb garden, yet I'm such a failure with dill. The fresh fronds, which have a sweet taste, are popular in the cuisines of Scandinavia (gravlax), Russia (borscht), Germany (pickles), and Iran (sabzi polo).
Dried dill weed is a poor substitute for fresh, except in dishes that require long cooking. Be sure to buy from a market or supplier with a lot of turnover; I rely on Penzeys, and buy in small quantities.
I'm already planning where in the garden to put my dill plants this summer. You know what they say: if at first you don't succeed, try, try again!
Leek, potato and salmon soup
Today is St. David's Day, honoring the patron saint of Wales. (I learned this from Ted, who comes from Welsh stock.) Leeks are one of the traditional foods served on this day. Be sure to set your table with daffodils, the official flower of Wales. Serves 4.
1 bunch of leeks (2-3 large), white part only, root removed
2 Tbsp + 1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
12 medium red-skinned potatoes, eyes removed, cut into quarters
1-1/2 tsp dried dill weed
1-1/2 qts chicken stock, homemade or store-bought (I use Swanson 99% Fat Free)
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper
1/2 lb salmon fillets, skin removed
Clean the leeks: Make a slit lengthwise through all the layers of the leek. Then chop crosswise into one-inch pieces. Place all of the pieces in a large bowl, and fill the bowl with cold water. Agitate the leeks for a minute with your hands, to dislodge any dirt clinging to the pieces, then let them sit undisturbed for 10 minutes. The dirt will settle to the bottom of the bowl.
In a large soup pot, heat 2 Tbsp of oil and add the onion. Cook over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, until the onions are translucent and soft but not beginning to brown. Add the leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes to soften the leeks. Add the potatoes, dill and chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce to low heat, cover, and cook for 10 minutes or until potatoes are soft when pierced with the tip of a knife.
Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until it is smooth (or leave it a bit chunky, to your taste). If you don't have an immersion blender, puree the soup in batches in a blender or food processor. Return the soup to the pot, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
In a large skillet, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil. Season the salmon on both sides with salt and pepper. Place the salmon skin side down in the pan, and cook for 5 minutes without moving the fish. Turn and cook fish on the other side for 5 minutes, then flip it again so the skin side is facing down. Cook for an additional 2 minutes or until the fish is almost cooked through.
Reheat the soup. Break the fish into large chunks, and distribute among 4 individual serving bowls. Pour hot soup around the fish, and serve.
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