The range of herbs is never ending and their histories make fascinating reading. Most of us use a small palette of what is available although this is expanding. Some of the exotic Asian and African flavours add a touch of romance to ordinary food. There are also a range of Australian ones that have a savory slant.
Some have unique flavours, like chilli, ginger and turmeric whilst others fall into flavour groups such as if the ‘anise’ group. These are those herbs like liquorice, fennel and anise. There are some that have a very mild but similar flavour, like dill, caraway and tarragon. There is a the genus Tagetes that also has a similar flavour and has given rise to the Liquorice Herb. Anethum graveolens is the Latin name for dill, it is the only species in this genus and, unlike many other herbs it has very few cultivars. Indeed the variety you buy in the supermarket is the same as the one you buy from the nurseries.
Dill is another of those must have herbs with a soft flavour that is a cross between caraway and fennel. It likes a well drained but moist and rich soil in a full sun position. If the light levels are too low the yield will be substantially reduced. In the right conditions it is a hardy perennial with attractive foliage. Summer moisture and regular feeding will ensure optimum growth.
Like so many of our herbs dill has been cultivated for several thousand years and originates in south eastern Europe and southern Russia. It is a pretty plant for the herb garden and will attract the beneficial insects like ladybirds that help control the annoying ones like aphids. It has soft green yellow flowers that sit well above the attractive feathery foliage. As it is a perennial you can let it go to flower and the set seed. This is good as the flowers make a colourful addition to a green salad the seed can be collected and stored for later use. They can be ground or used whole and are a nice addition to herbal teas. Like most good herbs the leaves, when dried lose the delicate flavour tones although there are freeze dried ‘dill tips’ available from the supermarket that retain their flavour.
Dill leaves are nicest used with fresh summer meals when the plant is at its best. Use fresh leaves with light flavoured fish like salmon, whiting and trout. Cover fish with light oil and fresh chopped dill and coriander than bake for about 15 to 20 mins. Mix the leaves with plain Greek yoghurt for a side dish to serve with curries and lamb. Mix with butter and chopped parsley then toss in with fresh boiled chats.
The seed is good to add to slower cooking foods. Place in stirfries and casseroles as the veggies go in. Place them in a pepper grinder and add to salads and sandwiches or use a condiment on the dinner table. Grind into a cup of herbal tea to add a bit of an exotic flavour. It has also been widely used in herbal medicine to ease stomach ills and improve digestion. A pleasant aromatic oil is made from the dill seed which is used as a calming oil in aromatherapy.
Dill is another versatile herb that can be used in many dishes. It is a delicate flavour so there is little risk of using to much. However it should be added very late in cooking or just after removing from the heat. Place in a jar with fresh coriander, sweet basil, some garlic and a bit of olive oil then blend into a paste. This can be used to toss with butter and fresh cooked pasta or smeared as a paste over fish and chicken.
Salmon with dill, basil and garlic. Take a handful of fresh dill, fresh basil and a clove of garlic. Blend into a paste with good quality olive oil and put to stand for 30 mins. Take two (or more) fresh salmon fillets with the skin on and rub with sesame oil on both sides. Smear the herb paste over the non-skin side of the fish. If the fillet is thick make some fine cuts in the flesh and push the paste into them.
Place some olive oil in a shallow pan with a spoon full of dill or fennel seed. Heat and cook until seeds starts to brown then place the fish, skin side down, in the pan. Cook on high heat for about 3-5 minutes. Turn over the fish, reduce heat and cook for another 3-5 minutes depending on thickness of fillet and how well done you like your fish. Serve on a bed of grated celeriac and fennel bulb.