Celebrate Dill: Herb of the Year 2010
Dill: from the Garden to the Kitchen
Dill Flower Heads
Lullaby dill, the baby calms to sleep;
Fragrant dill, the cook bakes bread;
Fruitful dill, the gardener goes to reap.
—Carolyn Dille & Susan Belsinger
Herbs in the Kitchen
A bit later in the season, I direct sow another batch so that I have dill flower heads for early summer; they bolt here in my zone 7 garden when it gets hot. So, the seeds and leaves are harvested at different times. If you want fresh dill weed into the late fall, sow again in midsummer. I keep the greens cut back as needed; though I eventually allow seed heads to form. In late spring or early summer, when plants want to bolt and send up the flower stalk, I let the plants do their thing so I will have seed to save.
To harvest the seeds, allow the umbels to form on some plants and the seeds to turn pale brown. Cut the tops with about a foot of stalk and hang upside down with the umbels in paper bags to catch the seeds. Be sure they are completely dry before storing.
Dill (the seeds, leaves, or both) is found in baked goods of all descriptions, including breads, crackers, cookies, cakes, and pies; I have found numerous recipes for using dill seed in apple pie. In The Fragrant Path, Louise Beebe Wilder writes, “Dill I would not be without for anything, for a sprinkling of the seeds turns green Apple pie into a quite celestial dish.
It is very common with all kinds of seafood, especially fish: the gravlax and marinated herring of Scandinavia; dill sauce for fresh trout in England; and fish grilled with dill in France and Russia. It is used in sauces for poultry and vegetables, especially in slaws; with meats, particularly in Russian and Eastern European foods; and as an enlivener of simple egg or potato dishes. In small amounts, dill combines successfully with parsley or chervil to poach chicken or fish.
Dill is lovely in spring with new potatoes, beets, leeks, peas, asparagus and baby salad greens. In early summer, I pair it with the first tomatoes, summer squash or eggplant, green beans and of course, cucumbers. Throughout the summer, I use the leaves, flowers and seed heads to pickle every kind of vegetable and in slaws, I like it especially well with cabbage and kohlrabi.
Flavor and Aroma
The flavor, from dill’s particular camphor compound, is a mixture of anise, parsley, and celery, with a distinctive green bite on the sides of the tongue. The aroma is a clean combination of mint, citrus, and fennel, with a touch of sea air. The seeds’ flavor is predominately a combination of caraway and anise.
Dill’s aroma is fairly delicate and loses much in drying or cooking, so dried dill does not have the bright bouquet that fresh dill has. Fortunately, nowadays fresh dill is available during most of the year. Purchased or harvested dill should have no yellow or pale green color in the leaves or stems.
I tend to use the stronger flavor of dill seed for pickling and in cooked dishes during cold weather when I can’t get fresh dill. Since the seeds are rich in minerals and contain mineral salts so they make an excellent herb salt. I grind the seeds with coarse salt in a mortar and pestle and store it in a tightly-closed container. Sprinkle it on all sorts of vegetables and fish; dill seeds are also good used as a salt substitute.
Traditional Tzatziki served with Vegetable Crudités
This is a national dip of Greece—it is on every table and goes with just about any dish— and there are probably as many variations as there are cooks. It always contains drained yogurt, cucumber and garlic; some used red wine vinegar, while others use lemon juice; dill is popular, however occasionally mint is added instead; olive oil is added in some recipes. Tzatziki is most often served with flat bread, however it is a great accompaniment to grilled vegetables, meat or fowl, or any vegetables, raw or cooked.
Makes about 3 cups
2 cups Greek yogurt, drained
1 large cucumber, peeled and grated or chopped fine
3 large cloves garlic, pressed or minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
About 1 tablespoon lemon juice or red wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Drain the yogurt in a colander or large sieve lined with cheesecloth for at least a few hours or overnight. Drain the grated or chopped cucumber for 30 minutes or so.
In a bowl combine the yogurt, cucumbers, garlic, dill, and lemon juice. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Combine well and taste for seasoning. Refrigerate for about an hour before serving; will hold in the fridge for about 48 hours.
Dilled Beet and Buttermilk Soup photo by Susan Belsinger
Dilled Beet and Buttermilk Soup
Just as cucumbers and dill make a winning combination, beets and dill are just as tasty together, as most Eastern Europeans and Scandinavians would agree. This is yet another version of the weirdly bright pink soup known as borscht, which has infinite variations; save the beet greens for another dish. This soup is uncooked and served at cool room temperature. If you want to serve it hot, put the soup into a non-reactive saucepan and heat it gently until hot through; serve immediately. It is best to use whole-fat buttermilk in this soup, or at least 1 1/2 % fat; do not use non-fat buttermilk. Sometimes I add up to 1 tablespoon of freshly grated horseradish root for a little kick. Borscht is often served with boiled potatoes, hard-cooked eggs, and extra minced dill for garnish.
Makes about 8 cups
4 medium beets with stems and leaves removed
1/2 large cucumber, peeled and chopped into small dice or grated coarse
1/2 small onion, minced or 1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
2 large cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 cup snipped dill leaves, chopped fine
Juice of half lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon each: toasted and ground cumin and coriander seed
2 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 to 2 cups sour cream
Trim and scrub the beets and cook them in water to cover by 1 inch until they are tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Refresh them under cold water and slide their skins off by rubbing them hard in the cold water. Grate the beets coarsely or julienne them in the food processor and put them into a large bowl. Add the cucumber, onion, garlic and 1/3 cup of the dill; squeeze the lemon over vegetables, sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss well.
Sprinkle toasted cumin and coriander over vegetables and add buttermilk and 1 cup of the sour cream. Stir well to combine. Cover and chill for at least half an hour, or up to overnight.
Remove from the refrigerator about 20 minutes before serving. Stir well and taste for seasoning; add the rest of the sour cream to loosen it up a little, adjust with salt, pepper or lemon juice. Garnish with the rest of the dill; serve at cool room temperature.
Old-Fashioned Cucumbers with Dill
This side dish is especially good with English or Japanese cucumbers, which have tender skins and seeds. If you like sour cream, use it instead of the oil, and add just enough vinegar to your taste. Often I use organic apple cider vinegar or ume plum—this is an easy recipe to be creative with—it is always refreshing and pleasant to eat in hot weather. I like to put dill florets in with the fresh foliage when they are occurring in the garden, or even crushed green dill seeds.
Serves 6 to 8
3 cucumbers, or 2 English or Japanese cucumbers
1 small red onion
3/4 cup loosely packed dill leaves and flowers
About 1/4 cup olive oil or generous 1/2 cup sour cream
1 1/2 tablespoons tarragon or white wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
About 1 teaspoon sugar, optional
Scrub the cucumbers and peel them if the skins are waxy or tough. If the skins are tasty, remove 4 or 5 strips lengthwise around the cucumbers to make a decorative edge when sliced. Trim the ends and slice the cucumbers about 1/4-inch thick.
Halve the onion lengthwise and cut it into thin rings. Chop the dill coarsely. Mix the oil (or sour cream) and vinegar together and season with salt, pepper, and the sugar if desired. Stir the dill into the vinaigrette. Toss the vinaigrette with the vegetables and cover and marinate for at least 1 hour in the refrigerator.
Taste for seasoning and adjust with a little more oil, sour cream, vinegar, sugar, or salt and pepper.
The bright tangy flavor of green dill seeds adds zest to any salad; use a mortar and pestle to grind the seeds which releases their pungent aroma and essential oils.
photo by Susan Belsinger