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Most herbs are "either/or" - either their seeds are used as a seasoning or their leaves are. Dill is unusual in that both its seeds and its leaves can be used in cooking. The seeds lend a strong, tangy flavor to pickles, soups, and specialty breads, while the leaves (also used in pickling) contribute a pleasant savor to sauces, salads, potatoes, and fish.
Dill's most familiar association is with pickles, usually cucumber pickles. Dill vinegar, used in making pickles, is easy to make at home. Just pick enough fresh dill leaves and tender side stalks to loosely fill a one-quart jar. Rinse and pat them dry. Stuff the dill into the jar and cover with vinegar. Use cider vinegar if you're pickling green beans or cucumbers, but if you plan to pickle cauliflower, use a clear vinegar so as not to darken the white florets. cover the jar loosely and set in a sunny spot for about a week, shaking it daily. Strain the vinegar into a clean bottle and seal it.
Fresh dill weed is also used to make gravlak, a Scandinavian specialty of salmon cured with dill, cracked pepper, sugar, and salt.
When grilling salmon, you can wrap the fillets in aluminum foil with a few sprigs of dill and a little butter; the fish is delectable, and if you open the packets carefully, there's a spoonful or two of sauce to go with a side dish of steamed rice or boiled potatoes. Also, try a thin white sauce flavored with dill as a delicious alternative to mint sauce for lamb. Remember that heat diminishes dill's flavor, so add it to hot dished just before serving.
Although dill transplants poorly, it is easily raised from seed scattered where you want the plants to grown. In the spring, just loosen the soil in a sunny spot, sow the seed, and cover lightly.
Germination occurs within a week, and you can begin using snippets and thinnings soon after. Plants mature in a bout 6 weeks and can grown as tall as 3 feet. Make several sowings, at about 2-week intervals, to ensure a constant supply of tender, tasty leaves. Once the plants begin to blossom, their leaves yellow with age and are less flavorful. Allow some plants to mature in order to harvest the seed. Some ripe seeds will fall to the ground as self-sown seedling.
Dill's fresh flavor fades when dried; freezing is a better way to preserve its taste. Rinse the leaves, pat dry, divide into recipe-sized units, seal in plastic wrap, and freeze until needed.
For easy retrieval, staple several packets to a sheet of cardboard and label it. This simplifies their recovery; otherwise, individual packets tend to disappear in the freezer.
Where space doesn't permit the cultivation of the fresh herb, you can purchase it. Young plant with their roots washed free of soil, are commonly found in the produce section of most supermarkets. Stand them upright in a jar of water and the leaves will remain fresh for a considerable period.
Submitted By DIANE LAZARUS On 11-07-95