Herb & Spice Series: Dill

Today we say thanks to our friend Ellen Kanner for this fabulous and 'dill'-icious guest post!

Dill is fragrant and easy to grow.  Its deep green feathery fronds are pleasing to the eye and its belly-soothing properties long extolled.  Even its name is mild, coming from an old Norse word dilla, to lull. I say unto you, do not be lulled. For all its demure-seeming ways, in the kitchen, it can be a nervy little herb.

Unlike parsley and fennel, gentle, chummy herbs to which it’s related, dill, aka Anethem graveolens, likes to dominate a dish. It starts out soft and sweet, but is strong of scent and can be sharp in finish. I have been wary of it, stemming from an unfortunate childhood incident involving dill pickles — dill’s primary use in commercial food production. However, my husband loves dill, which he fondly associates with his German grandmother and her weighs-a-ton potato kugel. So there needed to be some detente in the dill department. Research and development commenced.

Though dill is beloved in Germany and Scandinavia, I’ve discovered it goes far beyond pickles, kugel, and gravlax. It’s believed to have originated in Egypt at least five thousand years ago. It has since spread to gardens and kitchens throughout the Mediterranean, the Caucuses, Africa and India, where pairing it with bold guys like tomatoes and peppers or tangy fermented foods like yogurt and feta keeps its strong flavor in check. Some prefer to mute its power by using dill seeds rather than dill weed, but it would be a shame to miss the fresh, ferny pleasures of the herb itself. Something about it evokes spring.

Dill is rich in that must-have mineral calcium. It’s also a nice source of vitamin A, which you need to keep all your bits, from skin to teeth to bones, in fine form. Digestive and restorative, dill has been used to quiet stomach complaint. “Gripe water,” water infused with dill, is a folk remedy for colicky infants. Dill can also do good things for your heart. German tradition calls for brides to tuck a sprig of dill in their wedding bouquets to ensure a happy marriage. Failing to do that, I’ve tucked dill into numerous recipes instead, including the herbal quick bread below, with positive matrimonial results.  

Herb Quick Bread
Tender, lively with spring herbs and a cinch to make. Enjoy by itself, or topped with tapenade, hummus, or roasted vegetables.

Ingredients:
1-1/2 cups unsweetened soy milk
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chive
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon agave or maple syrup
Pinch sea salt

Directions:
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 9-inch loaf pan.

In a medium bowl, combine the soy milk and cider vinegar. This creates a mildly tangy, slightly curdled, plant-based version of buttermilk. Set aside.

In a large bowl, sift together the whole wheat flour, wheat germ, baking powder, and baking soda.

Pour the wet ingredients into the flour mixture, stirring gently to combine. Fold in the chopped herbs, olive oil, agave and salt. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake 45 minutes, until the bread puffs and the top forms a golden crust.
 

- Ellen Kanner, author of Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith and What to Eat for Dinner
 

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