Guest post and photo above by Peter in Brazil, chef and co-owner of Pousada do Capão
Dill is one of the few herbs that I've had success with here in São Gonçalo, ever since I put up a bamboo fence to keep out the rabbits. The very picky bunnies would single out the tender seedlings and nibble them right down to the ground. (I'll bet dill-fed rabbit would be delicious.)
Many of the other culinary herbs I've tried to grow here just don’t seem to have much flavor. It must be something about the climate, the sandy soil, the extremes of wet and dry, the seasons that I don’t yet understand.
The tarragon I planted is thriving -- in fact it’s invasive -- but it's tasteless. Time to pull it out. My garlic chives, oregano and marjoram have fared reasonably well until now, but six months of daytime heat without a drop of rain have begun to take their toll.
And then there's the dill that keeps coming and reseeding itself and coming again.
The flavor is great, it doesn't require much watering, and if the heat means that the feathery fronds are few and dwarfed, and the plants bolt rapidly, that’s cool, because I love dill seed, which isn’t easy to come by here in the Brazilian Highlands. Since each flower head can yield more than a thousand seeds, there's plenty for eating and replanting.
A member of the Umbelliferae family, dill is a cousin to carrot, parsley, cilantro, fennel and caraway. It has been used for millennia –- by Neolithic man in Switzerland, by Babylonians, ancient Greeks and Romans, Norsemen (who gave dill its name) and more. It's rich in calcium, iron, magnesium and fiber.
Dill can cure bad breath, alleviate flatulence, soothe stomach pains, stop hiccups, strengthen nails, calm the spirit, prevent nightmares, improve romance, increase mother’s milk production, keep away witches and zap their power to do evil. Oh, and it gives marvelous character to so many dishes, too.
I prefer the depth of flavor of the seed, which is actually a fruit, to that of the dill weed, but I often use them together.
I use the seed in the filling for stuffed cabbage and the weed in the sour cream sauce; the seed in spanikopita and the weed in the accompanying tzatziki; the seed in cold cucumber soup and the weed as the garnish. And there’s nothing better than double dill bread hot from the oven, slathered with fresh butter.
Stuffed cabbage with dill cream sauce
For as long as I've been making stuffed cabbage, I’ve never written down this recipe before. Use your intuition, ad lib, and create. The filling should be flavorful and even a little salty, since the cabbage will absorb. This recipe makes approximately 50 rolls, and freezes well. It is great hot, at room temperature, or even cool for a summer meal.
2 Tbsp butter
3 medium onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks celery, peeled and chopped (optional)
2 lbs ground meat –- beef, pork, lamb or a mixture
2 cups rice, cooked al dente or 2 cups bulgur wheat, rinsed, soaked in water for 30 minutes, drained
2 cups + 1/2 cup meat stock or bouillon
Dill seed to taste (I use up to one Tbsp)
Salt and black pepper, to taste
2 cups dry red wine
1 14-oz can tomatoes with juice, seeded as best as possible, roughly chopped
2 large cabbages –- green or red, or one of each
2 cups heavy cream
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar or more to taste
1 Tbsp fresh dill weed, chopped
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Prepare the filling: In a large frying pan over medium heat, sauté the onions, garlic, and celery (if using) in the butter until the onions are soft and beginning to brown. Add the meat to the onion mixture and fry until cooked through, breaking it up as you go. Season with dill seed, salt, and pepper. Add the rice or bulgur, mix well, and continue to cook, letting the flavors meld, and moistening with a few tablespoons of stock as needed -- you want to end up with a filling that is moist, but will hold together when rolled in the leaves. Re-season and set aside to cool.
Prepare the cabbage: Core the hard stem from the bases of the cabbages and cook in boiling, salted water until the leaves separate easily. From time to time you may need to cut more of the core to free the leaves at the stem base. They should be easy to pull from the cabbage head and flexible enough to fill and roll. As they cook, remove the leaves from the water with tongs and drain. Some of the leaves may be big enough to make two rolls. Cut in half along both sides of the rib and discard the rib. Others may be too small. Reserve those to line the cooking pot and to place between layers while cooking. I usually cut the hard stem base and bottom of the rib from each leaf for ease of rolling.
Form the rolls: Lay a cabbage leaf out in front of you and place two Tbsp of filling an inch from the edge facing you. Roll the edge facing you over the filling to enclose it. Fold the outside edges in over the ends of the roll and then continue rolling away from you to complete the roll. (The same way you'd make an eggroll.) I try to keep my rolls good and tight.
Line a good heavy stock pot with a few of the discarded leaves, and as you form the rolls, place them neatly and tightly in the pot, with the leaf seams down. Once you have completed a layer, cover with a few more discarded leaves and continue with another layer of rolls. And so on until you have used up either the filling or the leaves. Cover the last layer with more cabbage leaves.
Cook the rolls: Pour wine, 2 cups of stock or bouillon, and tomatoes over rolls, and then add water to bring liquid to the level of the rolls. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cover. Simmer gently for an hour, shaking the pot from time to time to swirl and mix the cooking liquids. There should be little liquid left as the rolls will absorb a lot. Remove from heat and let cool. (At this point, you can freeze the rolls.)
Make the dill cream: In a small bowl, mix cream and vinegar, add chopped dill and season with salt and pepper.
To serve: Heat the rolls in a buttered oven-proof baking dish or casserole with a bit of the cooking liquid, 3 to 4 rolls per person, in a 350°F oven until heated through and just beginning to brown. Serve with dill cream.
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