Aley Chubeza #227, December 15th-17th 2014 – Happy Chanukah!

Our week began with half of a very wet and very muddy Sunday. From nighttime till late morning, the heavens showered us with wonderful rain that covered the fields, paths and vegetables with mud. Then up came the sun and dried up all the rain, but we kept our woolen caps on while our shoes and boots spent the rest of the day battling the sticky, chocolaty mud. So we begin our message with a heartfelt thanks to the graces of the Good Heavens. May our winter continue as it has begun!

This week, we continue our seasoning herb trilogy, and today—

Striking a Dill

Unless you make the effort, it’s easy to overlook one of the loveliest and most beneficial herbs to grace our gardens and cuisine. Don’t let the wispy, delicate appearance of fresh dill fool you—this hearty green herb is both a powerhouse of nutrition and health benefits as well as a distinctively delicious seasoning. This week’s Newsletter is Chubeza’s salute to our wonderful green friend, the dill.

The English name “dill” derives from the ancient Nordic “dilla” or “dile,” meaning “calming and soothing.” This probably reflects the common use of dill tea in folk medicine to help babies fall asleep and to soothe their painful gums. Sometimes mothers would also bake dill biscuits to ease teething woes.  Dill tea relieves stomachaches and other digestive ills, as well as increasing nursing mothers’ milk.

Officially, the proper Hebrew name for dill is “shevet reichani” – aromatic “shevet,” but the name it somehow ended up with is “Shamir”, a word actually used to describe a thorny wild plant used metaphorically in the Bible when describing a farm overgrown with weeds. Amotz Cohen, teacher and nature explorer, believes that dill is really the “poterium” found primarily in abandoned fields over the country.

Dill originated in Southern Europe (the Mediterranean Basin) and Russia. It is an annual plant from the Umbelliferae family, sibling to (as we already know) such other seasoning herbs as parsley, coriander, and celery, and root vegetables like carrot, parsnip, and chunky fennel. The dill’s stem is branched and its leaves are feathery. It blossoms from the branches in a way that resembles a multi-tipped umbrella. After it blossoms, the seeds can be gathered and used for seasoning and for medicinal aids.

The dill is a plant that was probably cultivated many long years ago. Our forefathers used it to season stews and for pickling, taking full advantage of the entire plant. As the Talmud (Avodah Zara 7b) describes, “the dill is tithed, seed and vegetable and stalk,” i.e., all parts of the dill are in use and hence must be tithed. Such diversity continues to this day, with green dill sprigs being used to flavor pickling brine and to garnish soups, cheeses, salads and seafood. Its seeds are used to flavor baked goods, potatoes, vegetables, cakes, sauces and liquors. In India, powdered dill seed is a main curry ingredient.

Dill’s pungent scent may be the secret to its use as an amulet against ghosts and demons, and its integral presence in the beginner witch kit. It is also said to be an aphrodisiac, and Pythagoras recommended holding a bundle of dill in your left hand to prevent epileptic seizures (perhaps because seizures were perceived as being caused by the demon). The Greeks viewed dill as a symbol of prosperity, and flaunted their wealth by burning oil spiked with dill.

Herbs in the Umbelliferae family–including dill–contain phytochemicals, many of which have cancer- preventing attributes. These phytochemicals block hormonal activity that is linked to the development of cancer cells. Recent research has indicated that dill boasts a high level of antioxidant capabilities as well.

Other research analyses and reconfirms the virtues of dill in soothing the digestive system. It has been found to be chockfull of bactericide compounds and to have a protective influence on the Gastric mucosa.

Some folk remedies:

  • To make dill tea: Pour boiling water over the green dill leaves and steep, or cook 5 teaspoons of seeds in 1 liter water for 15 minutes. Drain.
  • To relieve gas, regulate digestion and encourage lactation for nursing mommies, to freshen your breath and ease a cough: sweeten with honey and drink 2-3 cups per day.
  • Give colicky babies 5 spoonfuls of this mixture (excluding the honey) per day.
  • To get rid of bad breath: gargle the dill tea several times per day.
  • For eye infections: dip a cloth pad in the warm liquid and place on the eye.

Dill is a source of such vitamins and minerals as potassium, beta carotene (pro vitamin A), folic acid, and vitamin C.

Tips for dill use

  • The dill that grows in India is a different species. Its seeds are bigger, but their taste is milder, which is why when you are cooking an Indian recipe, it is recommended to reduce the amount of dill seeds by 30-50%.
  • To make dill-spiced vinegar, use a mild vinegar (apple vinegar, for instance), place a bundle of dill inside, add a clove of garlic and pepper, if desired. Store for a few weeks in a cool, dark spot.

You can find recipes for dill use in our ever-growing recipe section.

The weather forecast predicts more rain this week, and even more towards the end of Chanukah. Here’s hoping! And till then, may we all enjoy a sunny-after-the-rain Chanukah, fragrant, spiced with a smile and no stomach, tooth or heartache.

Alon, Bat Ami, Dror, Maya and the Chubeza team

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WHAT’S IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES?

Monday: Sweet potatoes/slice of pumpkin, carrots, kale/ Swiss chard/spinach, tomatoes, fennel/ kohlrabi, cauliflower, parsley/dill/coriander, cucumbers, celery/celeriac, lettuce/arugula/”baby” greens mix, scallions/leeks.

Large box, in addition: Beets, cabbage, daikon/radishes, Jerusalem artichoke/broccoli

Wednesday: Cilantro/dill/parsley, kale/Swiss chard/spinach, cucumbers, fennel/kohlrabi, tomatoes, cauliflower/cabbage, carrots, celery/celeriac, sweet potatoes/pumpkin, scallions/leeks, lettuce/arugula

Large box, in addition: Daikon radish/small radish, beets/eggplants, broccoli/Jerusalem artichoke

And there’s more! You can add to your basket a wide, delectable range of additional products from fine small producers: flour, fruits, honey, dates, almonds, garbanzo beans, crackers, probiotic foods, dried fruits and leathers, olive oil, bakery products, pomegranate juice and goat dairy too! You can learn more about each producer on the Chubeza website. On our order system there’s a detailed listing of the products and their cost, you can make an order online now!

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Chanukah recipes:

Turnip latkes and also zucchini and radish latkes

Sweet potato latkes

Cauliflower latkes

Spinach latkes

Beet Latkes Stuffed with Goat Cheese (thanks, Melissa)