Dill's savory flavor has been described as a mix of anise, parsley and celery, its aroma as a combination of citrus, fennel and mint. A versatile herb, dill is an excellent accompaniment to any fish dish.
Dill is a dual-seasoning plant--the ripened fruits are the pungent, aromatic dill seed, while the leafy tops provide us with the more delicate dill weed. This attractive plant belongs to the Umbelliferae family, and comes from two species of the genus Anethum -- Anethum graveolen and Anethum sowa. The two species are very similar and are considered interchangeable for most purposes.
Dill is a graceful annual, with a long, single taproot. The plant produces tiny yellow flowers that ripen into seeds. These tiny, light brown, oval seeds are less than 1 /3 inch long and 1 /8 inch wide--it takes over 10,000 of them to yield one ounce! Dill's essential oil--the volatile essence responsible for most of the flavor and aroma of the spice--resides mostly in its seeds. After harvesting and drying, dill seed is usually "dewhiskered" before shipping. This involves the mechanical removal of the small hair-like strand at one end of the seed. For over 400 years, dill's claim to fame has been the dill pickle. Of course, this plant's seeds--and leafy tops--make other culinary contributions, too. Dill's common name is derived from the Old Norse word dill, which means "to lull." Dill water, in fact, has often been used to induce sleep in babies. The Egyptians buried dill with their dead to protect against hunger in the afterlife, while Romans and Greeks hung yellow dill flowers--commonly grown in their gardens--in their banquet halls, and used them to crown heroes. Dill is referred to in Virgil's writings ("a pleasant and fragrant plant"), and mentioned in the Bible, along with mint and cumin, as a tithe.
In the Middle Ages, dill was considered both a food and a powerful addition to magic potions, where it served to protect homes and individuals (who wore it around their necks) against spells and "the evil eye." Dill weed is dried by laying the whole plant on vented racks inside a drier unit, at a 30 degree angle. The rack's vented surface and angle of placement allows air to circulate freely through the plant material. Heated air (not exceeding 110 degrees Fahrenheit) is circulated through the drier, while a dehumidifier removes moisture. It is necessary to expose the plants to both a heat source and a dehumidifier to prevent them from molding or decomposing in their own moisture. The plant material remains in the drier until a moisture level of approximately 8% is reached. After drying, the leaf and stem is separated from the dill tops.
Ground dill seed is generally interchangeable with the whole seed in recipes. It works well in pickling, herb butters, sauces, and with fish. Meat packers also use the ground seed for seasoning liverwurst, bologna and frankfurters.
Dill compliments salads (potato, coleslaw, macaroni) and salad dressings, dips, sauces and gravies, cottage or cream cheese, breads, soups, and egg, bean, chicken and meat dishes. Also try it in sweets like cakes, pastries and apple pie and with vegetables like beets, cabbage (especially sauerkraut), avocado, eggplant, parsnips, pumpkin, squash, broccoli, cauliflower, turnips, potatoes, green beans and tomatoes.
European cooks use dill liberally in salads, soups, sauces, spreads, and fish dishes, and the Greeks use it to season tzadziki, a summer cucumber salad.