Saturday, February 04, 2006

Weekend Herb Blogging #18 - Dill

I feel a little cheeky even trying to post this for Kalyn’s Kitchen’s Weekend Herb Blogging since I do not have any nice pictures of my own for the star of this post – Dill.

Admittedly, I used “resuscitated” dill which had been in my fridge for almost a week and they looked much too sad to be photographed in their bedraggled state. Not sad enough to be thrown away but it would have been cruel to embarrass them in their twilight state. Thus, I am using a photo from to show dill in its proper form.

I'd managed to use most of the dill for my
Scallops and Prawns in Creamy Dill Sauce but there was still a large handful left. I decided to make my version of Sabzi Polow with the rest of the dill so I could rescue them from the graveyard of misused herbs.

While drying the water-logged dill, I decided to do a little research about one of my favourite herbs.


I’d always assumed dill must come from Europe since I always associate it with gravlax or Jewish chicken soup. Imagine my surprise when I discovered how terribly ignorant I was when an Iranian friend informed me that the Persians have used dill for eons.

Studying the Iranian dill my friend showed me, which she said was different from the dill weed I am used to, it did look slightly different and seemed to have a stronger fragrance. At any rate, it was marvelously delicious in the dill rice she served me. Realising that there is a strain of dill from Iran made me wonder at its provenance.

Apparently, dill is a native of the Mediterranean region and Southern Russia. Now it can also be found in South Europe and Western Asia. Incredibly, it is said to grow wild among the corn in Spain and Portugal and in the coast of Italy. In fact, it rarely grows in Northern Europe! How come I have never had dill in paella then? This was getting intriguing.

Dill has been around since the Middle Ages and was used as a drug from very early times. I was amazed that records revealed that the Archbishop of Canterbury even made mention of it in the tenth-century. I was in The Canterbury Tales before and I don’t remember the actor in the role of the Archbishop mentioning dill, although he did say something about wanting to “dilly” with me. He stopped after I told him I could very easily make a vegetable of him.

The name, dill, is derived from the old Norse word, dilla, which means “to lull”, explaining why the ancient Norse used it to calm the body and mind. In the Middle Ages, magicians used it in their spells and in charms against witchcraft –rather ironic I think. They also used it in love potions, which raises the question of the first rape drug since dill was also used to induce sleep.

Mediaeval physicians believed that dill strengthened the brain. The ancient Greeks credited it for inhibiting hiccups when boiled in wine (obviously you do not imbibe to the point that you do hiccup) and in fact, were so enamoured of it that they elevated it to a token of wealth. Wealthy (or wannabes) Greeks would burn dill scented oils to demonstrate their higher status. The ancients considered the seeds more useful than the leaves since the seeds are deemed as being able to get rid of “vicious humours” (yeah, let’s start with some stand-up comediennes!) and expel wind (what I just said).

They might not have been that far off as dill does possess stimulant, aromatic and carminative benefits. However, nowadays, dill is used more as a flavouring agent than for its medicinal properties. The leaves are used to enhance fish and seafood and the seeds are used in cakes and pastries as well as a condiment when pickled in vinegar. Chewing on dill seeds is a good way to alleviate bad breath. Dill water, made from soaking dill seeds, can apparently be used to soothe babies and also to strengthen your nails if you soak your hands in them regularly. Personally I find it vaguely disturbing … I keep having visions of stoned babies with Freddie Cougar nails.

I find it fascinating that dill helps the digestive system and can also be used to induce sleep. I’ve had it many times and always thought that my stupour was due to over-eating and not the dill! It sure explains a lot now. That’s my excuse and I am sticking to it.

Dill’s distinctive fragrance and taste can be overpowering to the uninitiated. I was reminded of this when I was drying my dill and my housemate asked me what that strong smell was. However, the aroma and taste of dill can be negated by heat so add your dill only at the end of the cooking process to revitalise your dish. By that same token, using fresh dill weed is preferable to the dried version.

The seeds are actually the most potent with a taste similar to anise and celery, which is why people mistook it for anise in the Middle Ages. I’m now rather fascinated by them as I have never seen dill seeds before.

The fact remains that dill is more than just the flavouring for gravlax. It is extremely rich in minerals, vitamin C and flavanoids. The seeds contain so much calcium that just 1 tablespoon holds 100 miligrams of calcium, considerably more than what is derived in a third of cup of milk.

My version of Sabzi Polow, which I was introduced to and greatly enjoyed at an Iranian friend’s house last year, is a rather sanitised take of this savoury and herby Middle Eastern rice. For one, the highlight of this dish is supposed to be the burnt crust at the bottom of the rice. I reckon this is rather similar to the Korean’s love of the burnt part of cooked rice, something which has always baffled me.

In Peranakan culture, burning your rice is a sure sign of an inferior cook. To deliberately burn your rice and eat it is terribly strange and foreign to me. Therefore, every time I’ve cooked my version of Sabzi Polow, I’ve always avoided burning it. But this time, I thought I might try to give it a go. Be adventurous. Cook outside of the box, as it were.

So last night, I cooked my version of Sabzi Polow, forever dubbed as Stephzi Polow, with my sadly flagging stash of dill. Again, measurements are rather iffy here as I cooked everything on the fly using the highly scientific art of guesstimation.

Stephzi Polow
1 cup of dill, chopped
2 cups of rice, washed and drained
½ onion, sliced in semi-circle rings
Chicken stock, about 2 – 2 ½ cups
1 large knob of butter
½ tbsp of olive oil

1. Heat your oil and add the onions to sauté till they are transparent and fragrant

2. Add your rice and sauté quickly to coat the rice with the oil and onions

3. Add a cup of chicken stock and the dill, stirring so that each grain of rice absorbs the stock

4. Add the butter and stir to mix well

5. Add the rest of the stock, stir to mix and level out the rice, making a few indentations with the handle of a spoon to allow the liquid to cook right down to the bottom.

6. Cover and cook

7. Add more stock if your rice is too dry but when the rice is cooked (how do you know? Pick up a few grains and taste it! Duh!), turn off the fire

8. Now, you should have burnt the bottom of your rice. That’s a good thing. Fluff up your rice, without disturbing the burnt crust, with a fork.

9. Cover your rice again and let it steam in its own heat for a few minutes

10.Serve the rice with the burnt crust on top

Surprisingly, I rather enjoyed the burnt crust. It had the texture and crispiness of crackling but the soothing savouriness of fried rice. I still am not going to go around burning my rice but this was rather pleasant and I might not mind having burnt rice crust in my polow from now on.

Tastewise, it would have been better if I had more dill and butter but I had erred on the side of caution, trying to stave off potential cardiac arrest. Next time I will just go for it and add more butter. So it scores a 7/10 for taste and a sad, sad 5.25/10 for health.

As I had already eaten dinner, cooking this dish was solely to finish off my leftover dill. I saved majority of it for dinner the next day with an idea to make a layered rice dish, which I hazily thought I would christen Dill Rice Revisited.

Categories - Call Me Others, VeggieMight


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Steph - I told Todd about your great blog - I see he's been here already! Love, Graeme xxx

5:11 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Stephanie! This is Todd from San Diego -- Graeme's friend. We went clubbing when you visited! Just wanted to drop a friendly greeting! I hope all is well with you! Ciao!

5:12 am  
Blogger MM said...

Todd Baby! Of course I remember you - what a fab night we had clubbing in San Diego. I'll never forgot all the eye candy at the last club. Once I find a gig there, I will definitely return there to party with my two favourite men!

Graeme, aw shucks, you are the bestest! Miss you lots and hoping you'll be able to drop by for another visit. Miss you terribly!

5:21 am  
Blogger Kalyn said...

This sounds wonderful. I also have an Iranian friend and he calls the crust on the bottom of the rice something like Tahdeeg (spelled phonetically, not sure what the spelling is). I didn't know there were different types of dill.

11:48 am  
Blogger MM said...

Kalyn, neither did I! But apparently there is a slight difference between the dill found int he different regions. My Iranian friend insisted that the Sabzi Polow would not taste the same with the normal dill I am used to. But short of going to her house every time I want to make this, normal dill weed will have to do.

1:38 am  
Anonymous paz said...

resucitated dill? LOL!

Anyway, your recipe looks and sounds great!


5:45 am  

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