Although there were twenty or thirty bottles and cans of dried herbs and spices in my mother’s kitchen cabinet, I can remember only four that she grew herself One was mint, which she tended in a flower bed near the house. As I recall, she used it only to make mint jelly, though I may be wrong about that.
On one side of the garden were several chive plants, which grew in the same row with the winter onions. Because of her I still love cottage cheese flavored with chopped chives. Mom also used chives in soups and roasts, and she added them to lettuce, tomato and cucumber salads.
She planted two or three parsley plants, which provided important flavors to soups, meats and other vegetables like boiled and buttered new red potatoes. The fourth herb was dill. On the same day we planted the hills of cucumbers, we planted a long row of dill seeds. Dill was of course the primary flavoring ingredient in her dill pickle recipes, and she used it occasionally in other dishes.
Although dill is grown and used in countries as far apart as India and Iceland, I have always associated it with northern European cooking. I even think of dill pickles primarily as a way German and Slavic housewives preserved the cucumbers they grew in the short summers of the northern hemisphere. However, dill may have actually been brought to northern Europe by Roman soldiers and settlers. Archeologists and food historians have found evidence of dill being cultivated in Celtic Britain after the Roman invasion.
Since dill was thought to have medicinal properties it was added to wines and other foods to cure diseases or give people more energy and strength. Roman gladiators are said to have rubbed their bodies with fresh dill to give them more strength and it was added to wine as an aphrodisiac.
However, I like dill for the subtle flavor it adds to many of my favorite foods including pickles, potato salad, cabbage rolls, poached salmon, fish soup and this recipe for chicken stroganoff derived from the Use It All Cookbook by Jane Marsh Dieckmann.
1 medium onion (about 3 inches in diameter)
3 T butter/margarine
1/2 lb. mushrooms
1 T flour
2 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. basil, crumbled
1/4 tsp. thyme, crumbled
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup dairy sour cream
1/4 cup Swiss cheese
2 cups diced cooked chicken
2 tsp. lemon juice
2 T chopped fresh dill
8 oz. noodles
Clean and chop the onion into a quarter-inch dice. Clean and thinly slice the mushrooms. Chop the chicken into a half-inch dice. Grate the cheese and wash and chop the dill. Start heating water to cook the noodles.
Melt the butter over medium heat in a large saucepan or Dutch oven and sauté the onion until it just begins to turn gold. Add the mushrooms and cook for three or four minutes, stirring constantly. Blend in the flour, salt, paprika, basil and thyme and cook for two minutes. Lower the heat and gradually stir in the chicken broth and wine. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture bubbles and thickens.
Reduce the heat to very low, cover, simmer for five minutes and remove the pan from the heat. Blend in the sour cream and cheese. Add the chicken, lemon juice, and dill. Heat thoroughly over low heat, but do not boil.
Serve over hot cooked noodles with a cucumber and tomato salad and good bread.
NOTES: You can substitute leftover turkey for the chicken. I use rounded tablespoons of dill. Sauvignon blanc or chardonnay wines are both good choices for the recipe and to serve at the table. This recipe makes four generous servings.