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Dill: Kitchen Basics

Dill in kitchen1

Dill in kitchenPartnering dill with fish and seafood got its start a few thousand years ago in the Nordic countries of northern Europe.

Dill—which has a flavor somewhere between celery and parsley with the peppery undertones of anise and the feint aroma of lemon—brings lingering warmth to cured and marinated salmon and herring as well as fried and boiled fish.

Partnering dill with potatoes, root vegetables, cabbage, cauliflower, and as a flavoring for pickled vegetables, cucumbers, and gherkins also got its start in northern Europe, in Poland and Russia.

Why? Maybe it’s because just picked dill leaves have a refreshing quality that is comforting and dried dill seeds bring warmth to foods preserved for serving in cold winters.

Another clue: the name dill comes from the Old Norse and Saxon word dilla which means “to lull”—dill seeds were commonly used to soothe babies to sleep.

Dill might be one of the original comfort foods—or herbs.

Dill can be used as both an herb and spice—the feathery leaves are used as an herb (herbs come from plant leaves), the small, hard, dried seed is used as a spice (spices come from plant parts other than leaves).

  • Use dill leaves to flavor salads, soups, cream sauces, and vegetable sautés; the effect is cooling.
  • Use dill seed to flavor breads, cakes, pickles, sauerkraut, and cole slaw; the effect is warming.
  • Because dill leaves and dill seed are so different in flavor they should not be substituted for one another.
  • Dill is native to the Mediterranean basin, western Asia, and southern Russia.
  • Russian cooks use dill leaves in the classic beet soup called borscht. Germans use dill with horseradish to make a sauce served with braised beef. The Greeks add dill to stuffed grape leaves, and in Turkey and Iran dill flavors rice, fava beans, and zucchini.
  • Dill seeds are used in Scandinavia to flavor breads and cakes and also to flavor vinegar. In India, dill seeds are used in curry powders and masalas.
  • You can mix dill leaves with cream cheese, cottage cheese, mustard-based sauces and use it finely chopped on omelets, seafood, cold soups, potato salad, cucumber, veal, and green beans.
  • Try dill seed with braised cabbage, meat stews, rice, and cooked root vegetables.

Dill is a feathery, green plant that grows to 2 feet (60 cm) tall. It seldom has more than one stem or frond. Dill leaves are needlelike but long and soft. Dill seeds are oval and flattish with five ribs. The smell of dill seed is reminiscent of fennel, caraway, and mint.

Dill and fennel look somewhat alike, but fennel grows taller and fuller. Dill and fennel should not be grown close together because they can easily cross pollinate.

Choose. Select dill that looks crisp and fresh. Dill wilts quickly so unless the leaves are dry, wilted leaves can be used like fresh. The stems of freshly picked dill can be placed in water to keep them fresh.

Store. Fresh dill can be kept for about 2-3 days in the refrigerator in a plastic bag. Or place the stems in water or wrap the leaves in a damp paper towel and keep them in the refrigerator.

Fresh leaves can be frozen in a plastic bag. Later frozen sprigs can be cut and used as needed. You can also finely chop dill, mix with water and freeze in ice-cube trays.

Dried dill leaves—also known as dillweed–will keep in an airtight container for up to a year. The strong flavor of dill leaves is maintained when frozen, not dried.

Dill seed will keep for up to 2 years in an airtight container in a cool, dark, dry place.

Serve. Fresh dill goes well with tomatoes, celeriac, beets, cucumbers, cabbage, fresh and sour cream, cream cheese, white sauces, melted butter, salad dressing, eggs, stews, and seafood.

  • Use fresh dill at the end of cooking; it will lose flavor if overheated.
  • Dried dill does not retain much flavor so add generously. Use dried dill to season vinegar, soups, pickles, marinades, cold sauces, and salads. Dry dill can be used in pickling fish such as salmon and herring.
  • Use dill seed in slow cooked foods.

Flavor partners. Dill leaves have a flavor affinity for beets, carrots, celery root, cucumber, eggs, five beans, fish and seafood, potato, rice, spinach, and zucchini. Combine dill leaves with basil caper, garlic, horseradish, mustard, paprika, and parsley.

Dill seeds have a flavor affinity for cabbage, onion, potatoes, pumpkin, and vinegar. Dill seeds combine well with chili, coriander seed, cumin, garlic, ginger, mustard seed, and turmeric.

The botanical name of dill is Anethum graveolens. A subspecies of dill A. g. ‘Sowa’ is sometimes known as Indian dill. It is taller than European dill and is more pungent and used in India to flavor curries.

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