A little bit of dill brightens recipes

The tension builds as the announcement nears. Will the 2010 Herb of the Year be mint or another perennial favorite? Has garlic -- not really an herb, but a contender nonetheless -- sufficiently ramped up its campaign?

The envelope from the Missouri Botanical Garden arrives. The winner is ... dill!

But dill's ascension really isn't a surprise.

"Actually, we chose it about 2007," says Chuck Voigt, a vegetable and herb specialist in the department of crop sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Voigt is a member of the board of directors of the International Herb Association, which names the Herb of the Year. "We've picked them all through 2015.

"We chose them based on being outstanding in two of three categories: medicinal, culinary and decorative," Voigt says. "Dill is of course widely used in cooking, especially in Northern Europe and the Scandinavian countries, and down into the Mediterranean. Some varieties have such a quality in their bloom that they're used in flower arrangements, and it can help quiet the digestive tract. It's almost a triple threat."

Chef David Guempel uses dill in several dishes on the menu at Cafe Osage, the restaurant at Bowood Farms garden center in the Central West End of St. Louis. "It goes with fish, but it almost needs something creamy," he says. "I also think it goes very well with earthy things -- I make a cucumber and beet salad with dill dressing."

But Guempel warns against overdoing the dill.

"You need to be very light-handed with it," he says. "It can overpower. I think maybe 'The Silver Palate Cookbook' back in the '80s almost did dill in. Maybe tarragon, too."

Ellen Barredo, horticultural manager at Bowood, says that dill attracts butterflies and adds that gardeners should be aware that some of the dill will end up being eaten by the insects.

"You should plant a little extra," she says.

Meanwhile, for those interested in learning more about dill, the herb association has published a booklet with recipes, folklore and more information.

The booklet is $12 and can be ordered from iherb.org.

Yield: 6 cups

Ingredients

1/4 cup olive oil

6 large red onions, thinly sliced

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

3/4 cup low-sodium chicken stock or broth

2 tablespoons honey

Freshly ground black pepper

Salt, optional

1/4 cup chopped fresh dill

Directions

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-low heat. Saute onions about 15 minutes or until soft but not browned. Add vinegar and simmer for about 10 minutes or until the liquid is reduced by about half.

Add stock and simmer until the liquid is again reduced by half.

Add honey and pepper and salt to taste. Remove from heat; stir in dill. Relish can be served warm, cold or at room temperature. Will keep for several days in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed glass jar.

-- Adapted from "Season to Taste," by Jeannette Ferrary and Louise Fiszer (Simon & Schuster, 1988)

Yield: About 4 1/2 cups

Ingredients

1 cup Greek-style yogurt

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup chopped fresh dill

Juice and zest (colored portion of peel) of 1 lemon

Zest of 1 orange

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

Red pepper flakes

Kosher salt

Coarsely ground black pepper

3 cups peeled, seeded and diced cucumbers

8 green onions, trimmed and finely sliced

Directions

In a medium bowl, combine yogurt, mayonnaise, dill, lemon juice and zest, orange zest, garlic and a dash of pepper flakes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or as long as several days.

Soak diced cucumbers in salted ice water for 1/2 hour to ensure crispness. Drain; pat dry. Refrigerate until ready to assemble.

Add cucumbers and onions to yogurt mixture. Let sit at room temperature until no longer cold. To serve, spoon over cooked salmon.

-- Chef David Guempel, Cafe Osage

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

1/4 cup sour cream (see cook's notes)

1/4 cup mayonnaise (not reduced-fat or fat-free; see cook's note)

1 tablespoon vinegar (any type except balsamic)

1 tablespoon minced fresh dill

1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar

4 cups cubed pickled beets, drained (see cook's notes)

1 medium red onion, thinly sliced

4 cups peeled, seeded and diced cucumbers

Directions

Cook's notes: For a lower-calorie, lower-fat version, substitute 1/2 cup low-fat plain yogurt for the sour cream and mayonnaise. Use good quality jarred beets or make your own pickled beets.

To make the dressing: In a small bowl, mix sour cream and mayonnaise. Put vinegar in another small bowl. Mix in dill, pepper, salt and sugar until salt and sugar have dissolved. Stir vinegar mixture into sour cream mixture until well-blended.

In a medium bowl, combine beets and onion. Stir in dressing. (If making ahead, cover and refrigerate as long as several days.)

Just before serving, add cucumbers and toss well.

-- Chef David Guempel, Cafe Osage