KYS: Dill, Ranch Dressing, and HAM

Dill; photo by Andy Ciordia

Dill; photo by Andy Ciordia

Ah, dill. Everyone’s heard of it (well, I think they have — dill pickles, right?) but it seems like people of my acquaintance mostly have no idea what it actually tastes like or whether they like it. It is a mystery. Particularly because there’s dill seed and dill weed and just dill, and that can get confusing. So: Dill seed is self-explanatory; dill weed is the dried leaves; just plain dill is the fresh leaves. Usually.

Dill has very fine leaves, and is an umbellifer; as you can see in the picture, it looks kind of like Queen Anne’s Lace, or carrots in blossom. The leaves look a bit like fennel fronds. It’s a slow plant to grow from seed, though if you start it soon after the first frost with your cucumbers, they come up at the same time for — voila — pickle magic. Dill really prefers full sun with no shade, but will still grow in some shade. You just won’t get nearly as much of a harvest.

So what’s it good for besides pickles? Well, to my mind, just about everything; I especially like fresh dill with smoked salmon, onions, and toast. Borscht, of course, or roasted beets with goat cheese and Marcona almonds. Cucumber sandwiches. Etc. But it’s really, REALLY good in ranch dressing. My husband claims not to like dill, but he loves ranch dressing, and I like to point out the relationship between the two.

Now, I am a ranch dressing connoiseur fiend and will occasionally eat it with a spoon if there are no vegetables handy, but like salsa, it is no good when made commercially and then bottled or jarred. Even the best brands have that weird “we put citric acid in here” taste, and to me an overly-tart flavor is contrary to the fresh joy that is ranch dressing. (Or salsa.) I know that buttermilk ranch is traditional, but the tang of buttermilk is not the same as the tang of vinegar, or of citric acid. So honestly, I really only love it when I make it at home. A Hidden Valley packet works just fine (follow the recipe on the back), but it’s trivially easy to make it all from scratch, and far cheaper. How? Well, with some herbs and some sour cream, basically. Oh, and MSG. Ahem. Dried herbs are fine here and probably give a result closer to what you imagine when you think of ranch dressing; fresh are also great but a little more Green Goddess-y.

Ranch Dressing

  • 2T dried parsley flakes
  • 2T dried dill weed
  • 2T dehydrated onion flakes (if you can’t find them, don’t stress it)
  • 2T onion powder
  • 2T garlic powder
  • a pinch of salt
  • black pepper
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2t MSG (I guess you can leave it out. Sigh.)

The ingredients above form the flavortacular basis of your dressing. The MSG really makes it taste like the dressing you get in restaurants; though it’s fine without it, you may find yourself missing that nifty umami flavor. Obviously if MSG gives you migraines, just skip it. Mix everything together and then add it to… well, you have a few options, because from here you can turn it into a dip, a dressing, or some bastard hybrid of both, or you could sprinkle it on something else and make it “Ranch-flavored.” For dip, I mix with 3 parts sour cream and 1 part milk or buttermilk. For dressing… well, that is what I use as dressing. You could do 1:1 sour cream and milk, or try 1:1 mayonnaise and milk or buttermilk. Basically, play with amounts and components until it has the degree of flavor and consistency you like best. Once you have that down, you can add other things; pureed chipotles en adobo, extra minced garlic, lots of black pepper, pureed avocado….

I’m sure you know what to do with your dressing, but here’s what I think you should do. It’s mid-April, which normally would mean delicious lettuce, but it’s been weird, cold, and snowy here in Michigan, so we don’t have any yet. That means we have to eat supermarket lettuce, which has essentially no flavor, and so requires a somewhat more robust collection of other salad components. And so, finally, after much ado, I present you with directions for

The !Salad

being decidedly not really actual salad

  • 2c Romaine or other lettuce, torn into fairly fine bits
  • 1/2c shredded Cheddar or Colby cheese
  • 1/2c frozen peas, thawed
  • 1/2c pickled beets, julienned
  • 2 hardboiled eggs, also julienned (use an egg slicer, save your sanity)
  • 1/4c ham, julienned
  • 1/2c chopped green or black olives (or a mixture of both. From cans/jars please. This is not “good” food.)
  • 1/4c sunflower seeds
  • Ranch dressing

Put everything in a big bowl and mix it up, then eat. Maybe with a spoon. Proceed to eat at least once a week for dinner and maybe twice for lunches until actual spring produce becomes available; reassure self that it is nutritious because it does say “Salad” in the name.

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