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(photo credit: Bloomberg)
When we sniffed some fresh dill (shamir) at the market a few days ago, my husband said, "It reminds me of the aroma of your mother's chicken soup." I agreed; at least, regarding the soups she prepared in her Jerusalem kitchen after we made aliya. When I was growing up in Washington, DC, I didn't notice her using fresh dill, but in Israel we were delighted to find that the fresh herb was plentiful.
Upon returning from the market, I decided to use part of my bunch of dill to prepare new potatoes in the style of my Ukraine-born neighbor Valya. She combines dill and fresh garlic to flavor her savory oven-fried white potato wedges. Her potato salad, for which she mixes the potatoes with diced chicken cubes, hard-boiled eggs, mayonnaise and dill pickles as well as fresh dill, is delicious.
For a simple way to dress up warm steamed or boiled potatoes, stir fresh dill, salt and pepper into sour cream or yogurt. This quick sauce also makes a tasty topping for potato pancakes or a dip for potato chips. All sorts of vegetables - from carrots to cauliflower, parsnips, peas and mushrooms, benefit from being heated in a dill cream sauce. This is a favorite way of serving vegetables in Hungary, Poland, Russia and other Eastern and Northern European countries.
In France I learned how appealing fish is when seasoned with dill. At cooking school we made dill butter sauce to go with poached trout, and it was great with the subtle flavor of the fish. A favorite combination of mine is dill with salmon - fresh or smoked. I've used the fragrant herb in salmon gefilte fish as well as in noodles with cream and lox. For an easy way to give a lift to a plate of salmon steaks, sprinkle the hot broiled salmon with a bit of olive oil, then with the chopped feathery dill leaves and serve it with lemon wedges. Braised light meats, such as chicken and veal, gain from a dash of dill too.
In Turkey I encountered dill in dishes with more punch. Some were lemony or accented with tomato, and some were spicy. Neset Eren, the author of The Art of Turkish Cooking, uses the herb in baked fish with tomato juice, lemon juice, olives and green onions. She pairs dill with allspice to flavor fish balls that are very different from gefilte fish - the fish is mixed with pine nuts and black currants, and then the balls are fried. Eren also matches dill with red meats. Dill seasons her ground lamb filling for stuffed zucchini and her beef filling for artichokes.
In recent years I began to prepare dill-accented Persian dishes. Cooks from Iran flavor their multi-bean noodle soup with dill and a host of other herbs. They use dill lavishly as the main flavoring for a popular Persian rice pilaf dotted with fresh fava beans.
Dill is a fragile herb and should be used within a few days of purchase. I keep it in an open plastic bag on the lowest shelf - the coldest part - of the refrigerator. If the dill comes tied in a bunch, untie it so the stems won't be crushed.
Some cooks advise snipping dill leaves with scissors but I find that chopping the leaves with a knife is faster and easier. You can chop the very fine dill stems along with the leaves. The thicker stems can be used to flavor soups, and then removed before serving time.
SAUTEED ZUCCHINI WITH DILL
In Paris I learned to prepare both summer squashes and cucumbers this way. This light vegetable dish is good with broiled or sautÃ©ed fish.
2 or 3 zucchini or pale green squash (kishu)
2 Tbsp. minced fresh dill
2 to 3 Tbsp. butter or extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Cut zucchini in half lengthwise. Cut in thin slices.
In a skillet, melt butter over medium heat, add zucchini slices and sautÃ©, stirring often, about 3 minutes, or until just tender but still a bit crisp. Remove from heat and stir in dill.
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings.
STEAMED SOLE WITH TURKISH LEMON DILL DRESSING
Jews from Turkey and Greece serve fish with a sauce of lemon and dill. Usually the sauce is thickened with eggs but I prefer this lighter dressing, which is a variation of vinaigrette. It is perfect with the delicate flavor and texture of steamed sole and makes a terrific opening to a Shabbat dinner. You can also serve the sole and its vegetables hot as an entree, accompanied by small boiled potatoes or cooked rice.
170 gr. small mushrooms
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 sweet red pepper, cut in 1-cm.
1 small sweet green pepper, cut in
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. chopped dill
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
550 gr. sole fillets
1/4 cup chopped green onion
2 large garlic cloves, minced
Cut mushrooms in thin slices. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large heavy skillet. Add mushrooms, peppers, salt and pepper and saute over medium-high heat for 7 minutes or until vegetables are just tender and any excess liquid evaporates; cover and reduce heat if vegetables begin to brown. Set aside.
Make vinaigrette: In a small bowl combine remaining 2 tablespoons oil with lemon juice, 1/2 tablespoon water and 1 tablespoon dill. Whisk until blended. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Run your fingers over fish fillets to check for bones; pull out any bones using tweezers or a sharp paring knife. Sprinkle sole on both sides with salt and pepper. Sprinkle lightly with about 1/2 tablespoon dill and 1/2 tablespoon parsley and fold each fillet in half. Sprinkle top with remaining dill and parsley. Set sole on top portion of a steamer over boiling water, cover and cook over high heat about 2 minutes or until fillets become opaque. Transfer them to a platter and keep warm.
Reheat vegetables over medium heat. Stir in green onion and garlic and cook 1 minute.
To serve, transfer fish to plates, discarding liquid from their platter. Scatter vegetables over and around fish. Whisk vinaigrette, spoon it over fish, and serve.
Makes 4 main-course or 6 to 8 first-course servings.
Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes and Feast from the Mideast.