I haven’t blogged about food for a while and woke up this morning moved to rectify this situation and decided to write about Dill. As herbs go, Dill is not widely used in English cuisine, which is a shame since it has a really nice flavour.
You may be familiar with the taste, since you will probably have come across in Gripe water, given to small children to cure hiccups. I loved the stuff as a child and attribute my subsequently high tolerance of alcohol to it (though these days it is alcohol-free). You may also be notionally familiar with pickled dill gherkins, usually imported from Poland. Nom! Nothing like one to go with a real ham (not that reformed, water-filled muck) and mustard open sandwich.
Each nation seems to have its favourite herb: Parsley is quintessentially English, Basil is an Italian favourite, I always associate Mint with Greek food, Coriander is widely used in both Mediterranean and Asian cuisine, Lemongrass immediately makes one think of Thai food and Dill, well, Dill is very Polish 🙂
I find its omission over here quite odd, as it pairs well with so many foods: salmon goes without saying, both smoked (Gravadlax) and fresh, but also eggs, potatoes and cucumber (not just the pickled variety). Aside from curing hiccups, it also has other beneficial and medicinal qualities, aiding digestion, relieving insomnia, diarrhoea, menstrual disorders and reputedly cancer, not to mention anti-bacterial properties that promote oral health, boost the immune system and combat dysentery. (Don’t you want to rush out and get some now!) However, it is its culinary uses I will be focusing on today.
I always have freeze-dried Dill tops in my spice rack and on special occasions buy it fresh. I have grown it myself in the past but it tends to bolt and grow quite large very quickly. I usually sprinkle some onto salmon fillets before baking them, loosely wrapped in foil with a little butter and lime juice, or for whole salmon, stuff the body with lots of fresh Dill. You can also just mix it with butter and serve it on the side with any fish, if you prefer. Last night, I made some Leek and Potato soup for dinner and on a whim, added some dill – what an improvement to, much as I like it, a fairly mundane dish! I’m not sure why this would be a surprise, since I grew up with Dill sprinkled on boiled potatoes and in potato salad.
My most familiar memory of Dill is in a very simple dish called Mizeria (Misery). No, wait…don’t go…it’s really nice! 😀 The story goes that Queen Bona Sforza, an Italian princess who married King Zygmunt I in the 16thC used to cry when she ate it because it reminded her of home, where cucumbers were common. Another story suggests that she cried because she ate a lot of it and it gave her dreadful and continual wind (as cucumbers do). Of course, she could just have been crying because at 24, she had to marry a man more than twice her age. Nobody can be sure, though you must admit that they do both look rather grim and humourless.
Anyway, in case you’d like to try if for yourself (and I do recommend it – it is one of my favourites), here’s the recipe…
Sour Cream (or Creme Fraiche)
Fresh Dill (the green fronds)
Salt and Pepper
Peel and very finely slice the cucumber, add plenty of finely chopped Dill and mix with enough sour cream to coat generously. Season to taste and serve on a shallow plate decorated with a sprig of Dill. Simples!
This makes a nice accompaniment for meat or fish and is especially good for BBQs. Essentially, it’s the same as Tzatziki or Raita, but with Dill rather than Mint, which makes all the difference 🙂