Using Garden Dill to Make Gravlax

This is the first year in the garden I've successfully grown dill. I say this with some reluctance and embarrassment, as dill seems like something that should be easy to grow. But, for one reason or another, whether I grew it from seed or from a transplant, it just always remained thin and dried out. However, every year brings some kind of "first" for me and this time, it's successful dill. I grew some ahead of the season from seed under grow lights and bought a couple of transplants at the local garden club sale. Both are doing great. I planted some dill on its own in a winebox and also added some to the bed that contains broccoli, zucchini, and cucumber as it's a good companion plant.

Dill makes a great companion plant for broccoli

Dill makes a great companion plant for broccoli

According to the University of Illinois Extension:

Dill is best planted with cucumbers and onions. During the cool season, plant it with lettuce. Dill attracts hoverflies and predatory wasps (good guys), and swallowtail butterfly caterpillars use its foliage as food. Tomato hornworms are also attracted to dill, so if you plant it at a distance, you can help draw these destructive insects away from your tomatoes. Dill repels aphids and spider mites. Try sprinkling dill leaves on your squash plant to repel squash bugs. But be forewarned: Dill re-seeds with a vengeance and takes over the garden in a hurry, so you need to cut the seed heads before they ripen.
Dill

Dill

Now that I have some great dill, I wanted to put it to good use. One of my favorite recipes is one for making gravlax that I learned in a cooking class I took in Montclair, NJ over 15 years ago.

Gravlax vs. Lox

Many of us are used to what often comes with a bagel, which is "lox." Lox traditionally comes from the belly of the salmon and is salt-cured for a long period of time. Gravlax is a traditional Scandinavian method of curing salmon using three main ingredients: sugar, salt and dill. It also has something that traditional lox doesn't have, which is the addition of various spices and it is only cured for 2-5 days. Neither lox nor gravlax are cooked, but they are cured, which is a traditional method of preserving food. You can make a fresh and delicious gravlax for brunch, hors d'oeuvres, or just as a treat at home for yourself. (I'll admit, it's been dinner for me almost every night this week, served simply with cucumber slices.)

Gravlax with Lemon Mint Crème Fraîche

I wish I could give credit for this recipe, but I honestly don't remember who ran the class, and it may have been associated with a restaurant that is no longer there. 

Plan Ahead

Salmon needs to cured for at least 2 days. The longer it cures, the stronger the flavor, but don't cure for more than 5 days. (I cured mine for 4 days this time.)

  • Buy a Center Cut Fillet
  • Turn twice/day
  • Remove long pin bones from fillets before curing. This will make it easier to cut.
  • Plan on using a dish that is non-reactive such as glass or ceramic, and have something that can fit on top of the salmon with cans or jars of some sort to weigh it down while it cures. This draws out moisture and infuses flavors more quickly.
  • If you're going to make the lemon mint crème fraîche, make it the day before you plan on serving the gravlax, if possible.

Ingredients

1 1/2 - 2 pounds center cut salmon fillet, with skin
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons crushed black peppercorns
1 tablespoon crushed juniper berries
1 tablespoon crushed coriander seed
1 bunch dill
3 tablespoons gin
(Crème fraîche recipe follows below)

Directions

  1. Rinse salmon under cold water and pat dry.
  2. Combine salt, sugar, peppercorns, juniper and coriander in a small bowl.
  3. Place the salmon in a glass or ceramic dish (make sure it is non-reactive).
  4. Rub mixture on both sides of salmon and place the salmon skin side down.
  5. Top salmon with dill and gin and cover directly with plastic wrap. 
  6. Weigh down the salmon with a plate or cutting board that fits over the salmon in in the dish and top with something heavy...jars, cans, boxes of almond milk.....something that will weigh down on the salmon lightly.
  7. Refrigerate 48 hours or up to 5 days, turning the fish every 12 hours and spooning the juice over the fish each time.
  8. To serve, discard the marinade and scrape away dill and spices. Pat dry. Place the salmon skin side down on a cutting board and cut into thin slices and remove skin. Arrange on a platter with lemon slices, dill, capers, chopped sweet onion, cucumber or whatever you'd like to have with it. Make the Lemon crème fraîche recipe below, if desired and spread it on dark bread with gravlax or serve on the side with the gravlax platter.
Weighing down the salmon will draw out the moisture

Weighing down the salmon will draw out the moisture

Refreshing cucumber is a great pairing for gravlax

Refreshing cucumber is a great pairing for gravlax

I like to pre-slice gravlax before serving to make it easier for guests

I like to pre-slice gravlax before serving to make it easier for guests

Lemon Mint Crème Fraîche

Ingredients

1/2 cup crème fraîche
1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Chopped fresh mint

Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and cover the top directly with plastic wrap.
  2. Refrigerate overnight
  3. Transfer mayonnaise to a small serving bowl and sprinkle mint on top.

I'm Catherine, a small-space urban gardener in New Jersey (Zone 7a) who started gardening out of upcycled wooden wine boxes. For years, I wanted to try gardening, but didn't know where to start. I got up the nerve to give it a try - starting small with a single wooden wine box that turned an idea into reality. That reality quickly turned into my filling every sunny inch of space of my postage-stamp size lawn and turning it into a garden oasis. I grow mostly vegetables and herbs with some exception for fruits (when the squirrels and rabbits don't get to them first). I love learning from gardening communities (and lots of trial and error).

I hope one day to take all that I'm learning and apply it to a larger plot of land. To help me get there, I'm extending my learning through the University of Massachusetts, Stockbridge School of Agriculture's, Sustainable Food & Farming program. (I'm addicted to learning as much as I am to gardening.)

This blog isn't just for gardeners (although I hope it inspires some of you to try growing a plant or two). The recipes (food & cocktails) in theRecipes section of this blog contain ingredients that don't have to come from your own backyard. If you like visiting your local farmer's market(or even your grocery store) and would like to get some new recipes you can use with the fresh produce and herbs you get from your local growers, this blog will have plenty for you too.

In addition to gardening and cooking, I also love to visit and photograph my surroundings. I feel fortunate to have so many amazing places here in New York/New Jersey, where I live and work. Visits to local farms, farmer's markets, and cycling through rural farming areas help me feel connected and refreshed. share these experiences in theExploring section of the blog so that you might visit through proxy or be inspired enough to visit yourself. 

With very few exceptions, all of the photographs on this site are ones I have taken myself. (For the photographers out there, I shoot with a Canon 7D and sometimes with my Lumix  DMC-ZS15 compact camera.) 

I hope this blog inspires you to grow, create, explore, and try something new. The best way to stay up-to-date is to follow me using the social buttons above, or click Subscribe and sign up for my email newsletters.    

Happy Gardening and Healthful Living!

- Catherine