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Welcome to A Newsletter #24, the age I was when I moved to New York almost 11 years ago. If you’ve found your way over by some miracle but are not yet subscribed, here, let me help you with that:
One of the weird things about the internet is the premium put upon revealing as much as humanly possible about yourself to total and complete strangers all day and every day forever in an endless stream of content. It’s fucked up, really. While I try to be mindful of this and show only as much as I feel comfortable, I still often ask myself if I am putting too much out there. Maybe? But I do like to think I’m leaving enough to the imagination. I must be because it always seems to shock (or surprise?) people when I tell them this one thing, and that is that I am Jewish. Half Jewish (Russian Jew), if we are being picky. That caveat is typically followed by, “mom’s half or dad’s half?,” and when I tell them it’s my father’s side, they reply, “you know that means you’re not really Jewish,” to which I reply “I love dill, leave me alone!” and that settles that.
Sure, maybe my loving dill is the most Jewish thing about me, but that’s not an insignificant part. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s character-defining, but it DOES define my character. This isn’t a new thing. For me, to know dill is to love it. The first food I remember becoming obsessed with that wasn’t milk from a boob was matzo ball soup (must have dill), followed closely by kosher (dill) pickles and my late Grandpa Bob’s Dilly Bread (not Jewish, but wow, did the man love dill).
So, for those dying to know: What’s so great about dill? For me, dill is more of a feeling than anything, but if I had to rattle off a few things, okay fine, uhm….. well, it tastes like the inside of a flower, or what I imagine the inside of a flower to taste like. It’s sort of sweet and maybe a little anise-y. It’s almost salty, like seaweed. Dill tastes like laying in the grass, like rolling around in the sun. The texture of dill is gentle and suggestive, never overbearing or obtrusive. Delicate without being annoyingly wispy to too feathery. While this is not a looks-based obsession, I would be remiss to ignore that aesthetically, it’s definitely the most stunning herb I’ve ever seen.
Weirdly, dill and I have a lot in common. We aren’t for everyone, but the people we are for, we really seem to be for (conversely, the people we aren’t for….we REALLY are not for?). We certainly don’t go with everything, but when we’re not there and should be, something seems missing (I truly am a blast at parties, remember those?).
Another thing dill and I have in common is the way we like to be treated: with care! Dill will turn its back on you in a damn second if it senses you are not tending to its specific needs. Not because it’s fragile but because it’s particular. Treat it well, and it’ll last forever (or at least 1 week, refrigerated). Don’t you dare let it die in that clamshell it came in, and if you think it’s cool hanging out in a plastic bag next to the other herbs instead of gingerly wrapping it in a slightly dampened paper towel, you are mistaken. Dill also hates to be tied down; can’t stand to be smothered. When sold by the bunch, it will most always come bound in a rubber band, which is great for transport, but dill needs to be set free from its confines as soon as you bring it home lest it becomes bruised and wilted.
FIVE TIMES I COULD NOT IMAGINE MY LIFE WITHOUT DILL
I use herbs prescriptively, not superfluously. I suggest where things can be swapped or traded or mixed and matched, but sometimes there’s an application so specialized that no other herb will do. Dill is one of those herbs. (Cilantro is also one, but this is dill’s day.) It bears mentioning I am speaking strictly of fresh dill and will not be taking questions about dried dill at this time.
1. Dan Roman’s gravlax
My dad got “really into making gravlax” a few years ago and while the salt:sugar ratio kind of comes and goes depending on how my dad is “vibing” with the salmon, there’s always a ton of dill. By definition, gravlax contains dill, so no, there is no substitute here and no, I cannot imagine me (or my dad) making or eating this without dill .
2. Matzo ball soup
Don’t you dare serve matzo ball soup to me unless those balls are absolutely swimming amongst a veritable forest of dill.
3. Tuna salad
Whether it’s a tuna salad salad or a tuna salad sandwich, tuna salad in any form needs plenty of dill. Chives should also be included, but those can be replaced with scallions or shallots; the dill, however, is simply nonnegotiable.
4. Mixed greens
When I was 18 I worked for a farm that sold lettuces and herbs at the Santa Monica Farmers Market. They bagged a lettuce mix that they called “stellar mix” which dovetailed nicely with my Incubus obsession. The mix had edible flowers and mixed herbs, like parsley, chives, and dill. I hate to sound like “that person,” but I truly can’t even *look* at a salad if it’s not bursting with dill. (This is not true, but I do put dill in my mixed greens whenever possible and think you should, too.)
In my book, potatoes are always “fine.” Until they are showered in dill. Then, they immediately skyrocket to the top of my “things I would die for” list. Many of my potato recipes call for “herbs,” but I’m asking you to please read between the lines here and know that when I say herbs I mean DILL. Potatoes without dill are like making love in a canoe. In this essay, I will--
Anyway, next time you want a very pure expression of this iconic duo, do yourself a favor and boil a few small, waxy potatoes (these tend to be thin-skinned and don’t need to be peeled), crush them while they’re still warm, toss them with a little butter, flaky salt, and coarsely ground pepper and then DESTROY THEM WITH DILL. Latkes? Wouldn’t dream of experiencing them without dill. Baked potatoes? Need more dill, probably. Imagine eating a potato salad without dill? What an absolute bore. While we’re on the topic, it should be mentioned Diane’s Potato Salad as seen on Beverly Scofield’s Instagram was the first time I saw the hashtag #lotsofdill, which has inspired a lot of dill-forward recipes and also this bracelet my friend Chris made me. I’ve not had Diane’s potato salad, and I can see from the photo that she’s in the mayo camp, but regardless of our agreeing to disagree on that one, we can both agree that a good potato salad simply must have #lotsofdill.
This brings me to potato soup. Because I have lost a sturdy grip on reality, I spent about 9 hours last week just...thinking about potato soup. For literally no reason. Why was I thinking about potato soup? Have two more boring words ever been put together in the history of the world? I’m pretty sure the last time I even had potato soup was when I was 16, sitting across from my mom at the Lamplighter Diner in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, awkwardly telling her that I had lost my virginity.
Potato soup: Does it have to be pureed? I hope not, I hate pureed soup. It should be vegetarian, right? I think so. Can it look...good? Beige is beautiful! Does anyone but my friend Clayton refer to it as PLS (potato leek soup)? We are about to find out!
Creamy Potato Soup with Greens and Lots of Dill
I am irrationally thrilled with this soup. It has so few ingredients that I feel like it has no right to be as delicious as it is. I attribute that mostly to the dill, of course, but also the Better Than Bouillion vegetable bouillion (I also love their chicken bouillon) and the small amount of vinegar at the end. It’s definitely heavy on the leeks which are not only great for *flavor* but also texture. Inspired by all the times I’ve eaten twice-cooked pork at a number of Szechuan restaurants (if you’re in Brooklyn, I love Authentic Szechuan Tofu of 5th Avenue), I wanted to use the whole leek, not just the white and light green parts (I often do this in my own cooking because I hate waste). Raw or briefly cooked, the darker stems are definitely tougher but simmered for a while with the potatoes, it cooks down into something perfectly tender without melting into nothingness.
This soup is about as flexible as I get. Don’t have waxy potatoes? You can use russets. Before the sour cream is added, this soup is technically vegan, but it doesn’t have to be. Use butter instead of olive oil, chicken stock instead of vegetable broth. Yogurt instead of sour cream. Want to top with some crispy cured pork situation? Sure! This would also be excellent topped with smoked trout, sardines, or salmon. But, please, whatever you do, please don’t skip the dill. Nothing can replace the dill.
2 tablespoons olive oil or unsalted butter
2 pounds waxy potatoes, such as Yukon Gold or fingerlings, sliced about ½” thick
2 leeks (the whole thing!), chopped and rinsed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 cups vegetable broth (or 6 cups water + 4 teaspoons vegetable Better Than Bouillon)
1 large (or 2 small) bunch leafy greens, such as kale, spinach, or Swiss chard, stems removed, leaves torn into bite-sized pieces
1/4 cup sour cream, plus more for serving
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1 cup dill, coarsely chopped
1. Heat olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add potatoes and leeks and season with salt and pepper.
2. Cook, stirring occasionally until the leeks are bright green and have begun to sweat, 5 to 8 minutes. Add water and bouillon (or vegetable broth) and bring to a simmer. Simmer until the liquid has reduced a bit and the potatoes are basically falling apart, 30–40 minutes. With a little encouragement from your wooden (or whatever) spoon, I want you to smush the tender potatoes so that they fall apart even more (this will thicken the soup, turn it creamy and make the potatoes a nice, uneven, chunky texture).
3. Add the greens, stirring to wilt them into the soup.
4. Add the sour cream and vinegar and simmer another minute or so (adding the sour cream later in the cooking process keeps a “fresher” sour cream flavor and prevents any curdling). Season with salt, pepper, and maybe a little more vinegar.
5. Ladle soup into a bowl and top with more sour cream if you’re going that route. Scatter the bowl with scallion and #lotsofdill, then grind some more black pepper over the whole thing.
Make your 2021 more/less list. Feel seen when The New Yorker has called your newsletter “bossy and self-deprecating.”Wonder if there’s a way to tactfully post a potato soup recipe in the middle of an insurrection? Don’t let the week’s embarrassingly blatant and horrific display of white supremacy distract you from the fact that Georgia elected two new senators yesterday (including Raphael Warnock, the state’s first Black senator). PHONE BANKING WORKS, DONATIONS WORK, HARD WORK WORKS! Thank Stacey Abrams in your nightly rounds. Take a breath and let yourself ease into the year, it’s a marathon, not a sprint, etc. Admit to yourself that some of your plants just aren’t going to make it, replace them with new plants that you will try your best not to kill. Listen to POOG, Kate Berlant and Jacqueline Novak’s wellness podcast, laugh forever. Help your friend outfit his kitchen when you discover he does not own a single mixing bowl, feel inspired to make an EVERYTHING YOUR KITCHEN NEEDS (and a few things it doesn’t) post. Stay tuned for that one in next week’s inbox.
Thank you to Polonsky and Friends for this wonderful new newsletter lewk, and to Mindy Nguyen for the font choices, which you’ll be seeing more of this year. More on that soon!
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Past supported organizations to put on your radar: The Okra Project / Food Issues Group / La Cocina / Heart of Dinner / ACLU / FAIR FIGHT / Feeding America