Dill

Dill seeds are a spice while its leaves are used as aromatic herb.

Dill fragrant leaves act as versatile aromatic herb, while the seeds, reminding of caraway, behave as a spice.

Facts about dill

Dill is one of those plants used as spice - dill seed, a rather bitter taste, similar to caraway seed - and an aromatic herb - the leaves, fresh and dried, with their subtle hint of anise flavor are more widely use and more versatile.

Dill has a long history, as it already was one of the medicinal herbs Egyptian doctors used about 5,000 years ago. Greeks and Romans also used dill to treat their ailments, and so it was passed to Northern Europe, where in the middle ages people drank dill water to cure hiccups while seeds and leaves were added to sauces and pickles.

Ever heard of dill pickles, those small sweet and sour pickled cucumbers? Dill seeds are still flavoring pickles, specially cucumbers and also fish, grilled lamb, pork stews, sauerkraut, cabbage, and cauliflower in Northern and Central Europe. Apart from pickles, they are used worldwide with smoked or salt fish and cold meats.

Dill seeds can be spread on bread as they work as a substitute for caraway seeds in rye bread and pumpernickel.

Dill leaves are an essential flavoring in gravadlax, a Scandinavian dish based on smoked salmon, and in tzatziki, a yogurt and cucumber sauce. In fact, dill leaves wonderfully enhance fish, cucumber sauces, as well as yogurt and sour cream based dishes.

How to identify dill

The ripe dried seeds are round and tiny, with a very pale brown color. Seeds are usually available whole. The fresh leaves are needle-like and the stems remind of feathers. Dill leaves have a very distinctive fragrance. They are also available dried.

The dill plant is a hardy annual with a single erect stem growing up to 3ft (1m) with thin, thread like leaves, similar to fennel but smaller. Flat clusters of tiny yellow flowers come out in the summer. Dill is mainly grown in the Northern Hemisphere.

How to use and store dill

The seeds are usually found dried. They come whole, but are easily crushed if needed. Dill seeds will keep forever in an airtight container, out of direct light.

Fresh dill leaves will keep for a few days in the fridge. The bad news is that dill leaves do not dry particularly well, losing most of their flavor and aroma, and even more if kept for long – though dried dill leaves are a good solution on occasion - even when stored in an airtight container, in a dry, dark place. The good news is that fresh dill leaves are easy to find.

The seeds are still used in pickling, to flavor vinegar, soups, stocks, cakes, bread and sauces.

The leaves are more everyday use and they are seen in sauces, stuffing, and with fish, chicken, meat, vegetables –cucumbers the most- and in yogurt and sour cream dishes.

How to grow dill

Choose a sunny place with well drained soil sow the seeds in spring in small holes about 10" (25cm) apart. Thin to 9" (22cm) later. Harvest the seeds in their stems just before they are ripe enough to fall to the ground and hang them to dry in paper bags in a warm, well ventilated place.

Dill and fennel may cross-pollinate. It is not advisable to cultivate them together. Grow dill and fennel far, far apart, where they cannot be close enough for the pollen to reach the other.

Cooking with dill

Dill seeds are used more in pickles. Dill seed can be found in recipes like dill vinegar. Dill leaves are used more often in the kitchen than the seeds; try recipes like dill-salmon parcels, tzatziki.

Dill substitution - if a recipe calls for fresh dill and you don't have it, substitute 1 Tbs fresh dill with:

  • 1 Tbs fresh tarragon, when using with eggs, fish or chicken
  • 1 Tbs fresh fennel leaves for garnishing

Experiment

As a flavoring, dill can be used in place of fennel in many recipes. Try to flavor a hollandaise sauce with dill leaves, or prepare it using dill vinegar instead of lemon. Serve it with grilled fish.

Sprinkle fresh dill onto fish steaks before baking them.Cover 2 salmon fillets with 2 heaped Tbs chopped dill, 2 heaped Tbs sugar, 2 heaped Tbs coarse salt, and 2 tsp peppercorns; stack one on top of the other and wrap in plastic film. Let stand in the fridge for 3 days. Serve finely sliced.