Jess: This soup didn’t quite come together as the recipe intended. I thought I had fennel seeds; while I like black licorice, I don’t like fennel much, and I had this memory of having a spice in the cupboard that always makes me think “ick.” So I didn’t buy any. I had to buy sumac online, and I meant to go back to Sprouts to look for baby gem lettuce, but I forgot. I forgot to stop by the community garden for fresh dill, and there was no hope for nasturtium leaves (we’re in the United States!) or pea shoots (too late in the summer).
The recipe says to spread out the fennel seeds and strips of lemon zest on an oven tray and dry-roast in the oven. After taking every spice out of the cupboard, I discovered I had fenugreek (no help at all) and anise, which the Great Google informed me wasn’t really the same thing. So I spread out about a quarter measurement of anise seeds (versus the fennel I was supposed to have) and the lemon. At the prescribed time, some of the lemon had dried almost to burning, and some was still shiny and damp. The wet zest refused to be ground in the mortar, so I ended up popping the mixture back into the oven three times to finish drying the lemon. Nothing in the recipe says whether it’s going to turn brown or not, so I had no idea if that was okay. I also had no way to keep it from turning brown, so that’s what ended up in the food: a mixture of anise seeds, ground-up dried brown lemon peel, and sumac.
Basically, you spread salmon fillets with mustard and the aforementioned spice mixture and cook them. I bought frozen fillets because they’re cheaper, and we don’t like fish well enough to splurge. (Though the kids and I do sometimes eat salmon on Dave’s golf nights.) The recipe called for leaving the salmon soft and dark pink in the middle, but we like ours the consistency of tuna, so I cooked the fillets longer than recommended.
While the salmon is cooking, you cook orzo in boiling water and then tip it into hot chicken stock. While both those things are cooking, you toss the baby gem lettuce and dill in olive oil and sea salt. When you’re ready to serve everything, you put the salmon in the orzo broth and top it all with the lettuce and nasturtium leaves. I made the little salad with baby mixed greens (I left out all the purple stuff, since gem lettuce must be green), olive oil, salt, and dried dill.
In the end, it was pretty good! I don’t cook with salt, so the broth needed lots of added salt. No one else wanted salad in their soup, but the oily, salty bitterness of the lettuce really added flavor to the soup, which was pretty bland without it. Both kids asked for seconds! Frankly, this would be a very fast meal without the fussy topping for the salmon. It was tasty, but I think you could approximate it with mustard, lemon pepper, and sumac (once you buy a whole bag of the stuff). I only tasted the anise once—I don’t know if that’s because I used so little or because it was overwhelmed by other flavors.
Something strikes me as odd about chicken soup with fish, but I’ll say it again—the oily, salty salad really complimented the soup. I’d eat this again, but I might tinker with it a bit.