We’ve reached that point in summer when a certain herb shows up at market and its distinct aroma carries you through the day. Have you noticed? The air is dilly and I couldn’t be happier. Fresh dill is one of my most favorite herbs and perhaps the most underappreciated in general. It’s not just for pickles, though with the abundance of local cucumbers at market, pickles aren’t a bad idea either.
Homemade, fresh dill pickles just can’t compare to the stuff you buy in jars. And refrigerator pickles are simple to make. My go-to process starts by heating a brine of sugar and salt dissolved in vinegar and water. Let the brine cool, then pour it into jars with cucumber spears or discs, dill, other herbs and spices. Your work is done, as the pickling magic happens in the jar. They’ll keep in the refrigerator for a few months.
In some refrigerator pickle recipes, the vinegar is neither mixed with water nor heated but simply placed in the jar with the cukes, salt, and dill then shaken. The salt draws out the water in the cucumbers and forms the brine in the jar. Oh so simple and the flavor of the fresh dill shines.
Perhaps a less well known but equally simple and delicious are dilly beans. Use the same process as refrigerator pickles, but using beans instead of cucumbers to create a yummy snack. I enjoy spicy dilly beans for some added kick.
There are plenty of other places where dill is a welcome addition. For example, when I think dill, I think borscht. The shockingly red, eastern European beet soup is often garnished with fresh dill fronds to lend a pleasant contrast of flavor and color.
I absolutely love dill in a fresh green salad. It adds a distinct flavor, separate from the dressing, that can take the simplest of salads from good to great. Caesar salad with smoked or blackened salmon filet jumps to a new level of fabulous with fresh dill. Simply finely chop the tender fronds and sprinkle them in your favorite salad.
Dill plays well with most things creamy. I’m thinking dipping sauces made with yogurt or sour cream, cream cheese spreads, or cream sauces for pasta, meat, or fish. Dill aioli (a garlic mayonnaise) makes a perfect addition to sandwiches, burgers and wraps.
Dill butter is one of my favorite ways to use the herb. Whether making eggs or sautéing vegetables, if I begin with dill butter, the flavor gently permeates the dish adding subtle flavor without overpowering. Consider cooking potatoes, carrots, or other root vegetables ahead of time then reheating them with a sauté in dill butter before serving. To make dill butter, simply beat a spoonful or two of finely chopped dill into a stick of softened butter, perhaps with some fresh squeezed lemon juice. Some recipes call for whipping in some oil as well, to create a softer, more spreadable result.
Dill is even wonderful in baked goods and is one of the easiest herbs to incorporate because, though distinct, it’s relatively mild and hard to overuse. Trying adding fresh dill with a good aged cheddar in corn bread, biscuits, or scones. Other combinations such as feta, blue cheese, Havarti, or goat cheese would work equally well.
The Wausau farmers market on River Drive runs Saturdays and Wednesdays 7 am–sell out • Weston market on Schofield Ave. and Camp Phillips Road: Saturdays 8 am–sell out and Tuesdays 10 am–6 pm • Aspirus Wausau Hospital market (Liberty Mutual lot): Thursdays 10 am–4 pm starts June 16 • Mosinee downtown: Tuesdays noon–6 pm • Stevens Point downtown: daily 6 am–sellout (best days Mon., Wed., Sat.) • Kronenwetter market at Sunset Park: Sundays 9 am–2 pm • Thursday Marketplace in downtown Wausau: 9 am–2 pm.
Mom’s tuna salad with dill
This tuna salad recipe comes from my mother. It’s simple but trust me, it does not disappoint. You could go heavier on the chive and dill, because everything else is the vehicle for those two ingredients. They really steal the show, sorry tuna. I like to use packets of tuna because they don’t need to be drained and feel less fussy to handle, but you could certainly use canned tuna, drained. Also, salt is key to bringing all the flavors to life. If you don’t taste the dill, you probably need more salt. Simply combine all these ingredients in a bowl.
10 oz. canned or packaged tuna
4 Tbsp. fresh chives, finely chopped
8 Tbsp. fresh dill, finely chopped
8 Tbsp. mayonnaise
Juice of 2 lemons
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste