A guide to the herb dill including ideas for recipes.
Dill is one of the few herbs where both the seeds and the leaves are used in cooking. The green leaves are feathery and light in appearance and their sweet flavour goes extremely well with fish dishes, particularly smoked salmon, whilst the brown seeds have a much stronger and pungent flavour and are used in pickling mixtures and Indian dal curries containing lentils or chickpeas.
The dill plant is native to Southern Europe, the Mediterranean and Russia but is most popular in Scandinavian and Eastern European cuisines. Here dill is used to pickle fresh vegetables, flavour fish dishes or sauces that are to be served with fish and to add more depth to soups and simple potato dishes and breads.
Dill is related to other herbs including fennel, caraway and cumin, which are other herbs that are favoured in Eastern European, Scandinavian and Russian cooking.
The history of dill
Dill has a long history that dates back to ancient Egyptian times. Also favoured by the Romans and the Greeks, dill was regarded as an indication of wealth, as well as being consumed for it's healing qualities.
Well known for it's ability to settle the stomach and relieve gas after eating, dill seeds were often placed on the table after big meals and banquets, so that dining guests could help themselves as need be.
A concoction of dill seeds and hot water sweetened with sugar or honey, often known as "gripe water", was given to babies that suffered colic and abdominal pains. This is most likely where the name for the herb originated, as the Old Norse word "dilla", actually means "to lull" or "to soothe".
Finally in folk customs, people would hang a bunch of dill by the entrance to their home, as it was believed that this would protect them from witches and witchcraft.
The nutritional value of dill
Dill is a very good source of calcium, which is necessary to maintain healthy teeth and bones. As well as calcium, dill is rich in manganese, iron and magnesium. (For more information about the importance of consuming foods that contain plenty of minerals, see our Guide to Minerals
The health benefits of dill
Dill is most certainly well known medicinally, for it's soothing effect on the stomach and digestive system, being gentle enough to give to babies. Studies have also proven that dill is effective in the following:
- To regulate and prevent further growth of bacteria.
- As an antiseptic and a treatment for wounds.
- A powerful antioxidant, protecting the body's cells of damage by free radicals.
- Relieves gas and flatulence.
- Aids digestion.
- Chewing dills seeds can combat bad breath.
- Can cure hiccups.
- Dill can be helpful to relieve fluid retention.
- Dill can treat cystitis and other bladder infections.
Buying and storing dill
Dill is very easy to grow at home in your garden or window box. Therefore, if possible, it is best to use dill fresh from your garden for the best possible flavour.
Cut the dill as you need it and use in your homemade dishes.
You can also buy packets of freshly cut dill from your local supermarket. This will only stay fresh for about two days, as it is highly perishable. For the freshest results, keep the dill wrapped in a damp paper towel and place in the refrigerator.
Dill that has been dried can be bought in small jars, however the flavour is so much milder than fresh dill.
Ideas for using dill in the kitchen
Fresh dill enhances the flavour of all fish dishes and also goes very well with potato. Add it to a freshly prepared potato salad or to a sauce for fish. Other ideas are:
- Use dill to flavour bread dough before baking.
- Add to salad dressings made from mild vinegars.
- Sprinkle over a fresh salad.
- Use to pickle vegetables such as small cucumbers or cauliflower.
- Use freshly chopped dill to serve with mussels or other types of seafood.
- Add to soups, stews and casseroles, particularly those containing fish or potato.
- Mix grated cucumber, natural yoghurt and freshly chopped dill for a cooling salad.
- Use to garnish smoked salmon sandwiches.
- Add to mashed potato.
- Add to egg mayonnaise sandwiches or salads.
- Add to potato or Russian salad.
- Use to flavour cream cheese or cottage cheese.
- Use to flavour lamb dishes.
- Use in pickles and dips.
- Add to flavour plain soups such as potato, leek and cauliflower.
- Stuff a whole chicken with fresh dill leaves before roasting.
Three recipes for dill including a potato and dill salad, pasta with salmon and dill and a delicious pâté made with dill and smoked salmon.
Smoked Salmon and Dill Pâté
This smoked salmon pâté is delicious on fresh crusty bread, cream crackers or on hot buttered toast.
- 6 oz (170 g) of smoked salmon trimmings
- 3 oz (85 g) of unsalted butter
- 4 tbsp of single cream
- 1 tbsp of freshly chopped dill
- 4 tsp of lemon juice
- Melt the butter over a low heat in a small saucepan.
- In the meantime, place all the other ingredients except for the pepper into a food processor.
- Add the melted butter and process until the mixture is smooth.
- Taste the pâté and add pepper accordingly.
- Transfer the pâté into a dish and cover with cling film. Refrigerate until the pâté has set.
- When ready spread on toast and serve.
Pasta with Salmon and Dill
There's never a better combination than fresh salmon, dill and cream. If you love pasta but are fed up with the same kind of sauces, this dish is heavenly.
- 14 oz (395 g) of dried pasta of your choice
- 10 oz (285 g) of fresh salmon fillet with skin removed
- ˝ pint (300 ml) of double cream
- 8 fl oz (225 ml) of dry white wine
- 4 oz (115 g) smoked salmon slices
- 1˝ oz (40 g) of butter
- 2-3 tbsp of freshly chopped dill
- 2 tbsp of wholegrain mustard
- 1 chopped onion
- In a large frying pan melt the butter over a medium heat and add the chopped onions. Cook for about 10 minutes or until the onions are soft. Make sure that they don't burn.
- Add the white wine and the mustard and stir well.
- Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and partially cover with a lid. Allow to cook until the mixture has reduced by half.
- In the meantime, put a pan of salted water on to boil.
- Cut the salmon fillet into small cubes and slice the smoked salmon into strips.
- Once the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook until al dente.
- Once the sauce has reduced to half, pour in the cream and simmer for 1 minute, stirring frequently.
- Add the fresh salmon cubes and cook gently for several minutes until the salmon has firmed up.
- Add the fresh dill and stir. Check the taste and add pepper.
- Drain the cooked pasta, place back into the pan but away from the heat, add the sauce and the smoked salmon strips. Toss the pasta with the sauce and serve immediately.
Homemade Potato Salad with Dill
A homemade potato salad is always refreshing in the summer. You can make it as plain or as elaborate as you like, depending on how many extra ingredients you choose to add.
- 2 lb (905 g) of baby new potatoes
- 4 tbsp of freshly chopped dill
- salt and pepper
- For the dressing
- 4 tbsp of Greek yoghurt
- 4 tbsp of mayonnaise
- 4 tsp of wholegrain mustard
- 1 tsp of lemon juice
- salt and pepper
- Scrub the potatoes and place into a large saucepan.
- Pour in enough cold water to cover the potatoes and add a large pinch of salt. Bring to the boil and simmer until the potatoes are firm but cooked through.
- In a separate small mixing bowl blend together all of the dressing ingredients and season with the salt and pepper.
- Drain the cooked potatoes and allow to cool.
- Once the potatoes are cool enough to touch, cut into halves or quarters according to preference and place in a mixing bowl.
- Stir in the dressing and the chopped dill and mix well.
- Serve warm or cover and refrigerate until cold.