When was the last time you made chicken soup without adding in a bunch of dill? If you are making an Eastern European version of it, don’t even think about it. Chicken soup without dill is like chopped liver without onions, tahini without lemon or marriage without love. It is an essential supporting ingredient, one that enriches all parts of the whole.
Dill never takes center stage; it is a modest herb, which is part of what I love about it. But only part. Would my mother be offended to know that it reminds me of her? There is that along with so many other reasons, which is why you can always find it in my fridge, at the ready, in a glass of water, waiting to be plucked.
Here are the many reasons why I love dill, and why it deserves your love, too.
1. Dill is beautiful.
Not to be superficial, but let’s just get that out of the way. Dill is feathery; I love its muted green color and the languorous way it spills over the glass while it waits to be called into culinary duty. If you grow it in your garden, watch out for the yellow, lacy flowers that appear when the plant matures—they’re lovely enough to add to your flower arrangements and edible, too.
2. Dill is Jewish.
According to Gil Marks, author of “Encyclopedia of Jewish Food,” dill was cultivated in Judea, a part of the land of Israel, more than 2,000 years ago. And in modern times, dill is an essential ingredient in many classic Eastern European Jewish and Persian Jewish dishes as well. Really, what is more Jewish than dill pickles?
3. Dill reminds me of my mother (and maybe your mother, too?)
Aside from the occasional bunch of parsley, dill was the only herb she ever bought in close to 70 years of cooking. No fresh mint, basil, rosemary, or tarragon. When dill was in the fridge, I knew it meant chicken or split pea soup was in my future. And like dill, my mother was beautiful, modest and Jewish.
4. Dill is old school.
Dill was one of the few herbs used in Eastern European Jewish cooking. In “The Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook,” written in 1937 by Fania Lewando, dill’s the herb that shows up most frequently. Lewando used it on potatoes, in cauliflower soup and in cucumber salad. If I can sneak it into a dish—particularly traditional Jewish dishes like potato kugel—I do; it gives me Poland, my grandmother and my mom in one handful.
5. But dill can be new school, too.
You haven’t lived if you haven’t treated yourself to dill pickle popcorn. This low calorie snack combines the flavor of pickles with popcorn and the results are triumphant. Find it at Trader Joe’s during the summer or Amazon year round. (You can also find dill pickle potato chips and array of other pickle-flavored snacks on the shelves of supermarkets these days!)
6. Dill helps to settle your stomach.
The herb’s name comes from the Norse word, “dilla,” which means to soothe. Since ancient times, dill has been used to calm roiling stomachs and even to help nursing mothers with breastfeeding. There was even mention of its medicinal properties in an Egyptian papyrus from 3,000 years ago.
7. Dill stays fresh a very long time.
Fresh dill usually lasts about two weeks in my refrigerator. When I bring home basil, the pressure is on. Use it or lose it. But dill waits for me. I snip the bottom, remove the rubber band holding the bunch together and stand it up in a glass of water. Others swear by wrapping dill in wet paper towels, placing it in a bag and putting it in a vegetable bin. One summer, when my garden exploded with a forest of dill, I cut bunches and froze them in ziplock bags to be used in the heart of winter when my soups called out for the grassy, vegetal flavor.
8. Dill will clarify your chicken soup.
According to food writer Adeena Sussman, when cooking chicken soup, adding a bunch of dill attracts small particles floating in the liquid. Gently remove the dill for a clear broth once it’s done cooking.
9. Dill is healthy.
Dill is more than a pretty face. It’s a good source of Vitamin C, manganese and Vitamin A, and is rich in antioxidants, too. Could dill be part of why chicken soup is considered to be good for you? I put nothing past it.
10. Dill is my very own sleeper hit.
For many years, dill was my secret. There was nothing trendy or cool about it. But something changed of late. Food writer Alison Roman wrote a recipe that featured dill in potato-leek soup. It went viral, so much so that when I tried to buy a bunch of dill the week the recipe came out, there was none in the stores. The word was out. Dill is GOOD, and I will remain forever loyal to its charms.
Rachel Ringler is a contributing writer to Nosher and Jlife Magazine.