What is dill?
Feathery, aromatic dill leaves add an aniseed kick to cured salmon, steaming hot new potatoes and borscht, the classic Russian beetroot soup. Dill seeds are also part of the wonderful aromatic spice blend that is added to biryani, a classic Indian dish of meat (or vegetables) and rice.
The plant originated in Southern Europe and Western Asia and it has been used in cooking and medicinal purposes for many thousands of years. Archaeological records found in Egypt suggest that the herb was used as medicine as far back as 5,000 years ago. In the Middle Ages, dill was used as a remedy for stomach pains and in love potions. In Ancient Greece, it was a sign of wealth, and rich citizens burned dill oil for its pleasant aroma.
In Australia, dill leaves are often used in salads and with fish or eggs. Some European migrants also frequently use dill seed to flavour sauerkraut – fermented, finely cut cabbage that is served alongside sausages and grilled meats.
In Australia, dill is not sold by variety. The herb has feathery leaves (similar to fennel fronds), hollow, branching stems and an aniseed flavour. The leaves can be used fresh or dried and both the flower heads and the seeds are used to flavour vinegar, oils and salad dressings.
Why dill is good to eat
- Dill is a good source of vitamins A (important for growth and development and the maintenance of your immune system), C (needed for the growth and repair of tissues in the body) and folate.
- It also contains minerals such as iron (which is involved in the formation of red blood cells), manganese (involved in the regulation of brain and nerve function) and calcium (involved in the regulation of muscle, heart and nerve function and keeping bones strong).
- Dill contains dietary fibre, which is important for a healthy bowel.
- Energy – 100 g of dill supplies 180 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
Dill is an annual plant that grows for one season and then dies off. Dill grows best when planted in locations that are sunny and dry. The seeds germinate between 14 and 21 days after planting and the plant grows to about 1 m.
Dill can be harvested about eight weeks after planting the seed. If you do not harvest your dill it will start to produce white to yellow flowers and, once this occurs, the plant will stop producing leaves. You can harvest the seed from your plant by cutting the flower stalks just before they begin to ripen and turn brown. Place them in a paper bag in a dry place until the seeds ripen and fall off. When the seeds are well dried, store them in an airtight container until you are ready to plant them.
Choose dill with fresh-looking, green leaves. Avoid dill that has yellow or wilted leaves.
How to store and keep dill
Store dill wrapped in a damp paper towel and in a plastic bag in the crisper section of your fridge. It will last for up to a week when stored this way.
How to use
- Make a simple salad – combine sour cream (or natural yoghurt), lemon juice, chopped dill and pepper, then mix with thinly sliced Lebanese cucumber, finely sliced shallots and serve alongside chicken or fish.
- Try fish parcels – place pieces of white fish (try blue eye or ling) on baking paper, drizzle with lemon juice, add lemon slices, asparagus spears, sliced green onions, dill sprigs and a dot of butter, then seal and bake and serve with extra steamed vegetables (try snow peas and yellow squash).
- Serve a side of green beans – whisk olive oil, lemon juice, minced garlic, finely chopped shallot and seasoning, then combine with cooked green beans, slices of red onion and roughly chopped dill and serve with meat, chicken or fish.
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