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Friday, March 14, 2014


Dill, a "husband turner!"
Photo by: Lord-Williams
 OCast enello, aneldo, L. Anethum graveolens AS dillan (to lull), OE dile, Eng. dill. In Hispano Muslim cookery, dill was added to meats and vegetables. The Al-Andalus recipe for “El canto del Muecín” described by Benavides-Barajas calls for a dill and garlic sauce to be served with eggplant and zucchini. He also recorded a recipe for breaded lamb chops in which the mixture contains dill juice.

In Biblical times, dill was used to pay taxes (Isiah 28:25-7 and Matt. 23:23). Egyptians used it in medicine and Greeks thought it cured hiccups. It is said that the Romans took it to England, where it was grown as an important plant in the herb garden as importation of spices was so expensive during the Middle Ages.

Of the 86 plants documented in 15th C England dill is missing. There is no record of it being cultivated until 1548. Further, it is not mentioned in Christian cookery documents in Spain. It is known that in southern Europe and along the Mediterranean coast it grew wild. When cultivated, the seeds are sown in spring and midsummer. Six to eight weeks after sowing, it is harvested.

Ribs Covered with Al-Mailiu Dill Sauce
Before Roasting
Photo by: Lord-Williams
Perry and Benavides claim dill was used by Muslims in Al-Andalus. In the Anón/AlAndalus recipe for meat juice Perry translates dill as an ingredient while Huici does not claiming that that part of the recipe is illegible. Benavides gives two recipes containing dill which he claims are from the Muslims in Al-Andalus. One is for beef chops and another for lamb ribs. As usual Benavides does not document his material, which is frustrating as it is unknown if this is a figment of his imagination or if it actually exists in a text unknown to this author.

Dill was reputed for being a soothing sedative herb. Dill water was rubbed on the breast of babies after feeding to make them sleep. Mild infusions of it made them burp and calm them. The seeds and leaves were thought to increase the milk supply of nursing mothers. Avenzoar provides a recipe for dill syrup to stimulate the flow of milk and the sperm. Infusions were drunk to stop diarrhea. It was used as a strong purgative to relieve griping pains. Dill water also was imbibed for halitosis. Seeds were ground and roasted and applied to wounds and ulcers. Eaten raw, dill strengthened hair and nails. Dill protected against evil and witchcraft, but at the same time witches carried it to create for charms and spells.

In medieval times, Spaniards called it the "husband turner," as they thought the magic powers of dill brought back husbands who had abandoned their wives. If dill did not work, the ladies tried anise. Dill also came to mean lust, protection, luck and money.  

[Anón/Huici. 1966:187:121-122; Benavides-Barajas. Alhambra. 1999:141:144; Bremness.1990:45; ES: Herbs. Oct 8, 02; 106; ES: Anon/Perry. Sep 5, 00; Henisch. 1976:108; Ibn Zuhr/García Sánchez. 1992:106; Mead. 1931:238:ftn 179; and Wilson. 1973:288]


Ingredients for 4-6 persons

Totally Succulent Ribs!
Photo by: Lord-Williams
2 or 3 slabs of lamb spareribs, 7 lbs[1]

For the sauce:
½ c ground almonds
½ c breadcrumbs
1 c fennel or dill juice
1 tsp ginger scrapings
salt to taste
¼ tsp white pepper
½ tsp ground cinnamon


Prepare a sauce with the ingredients. Beat well. Cover each rib with this.[2] Place it in a roasting pan, baste occasionally and roast in the oven until golden brown. It takes about 3 hours.

The meat from each rib should be eaten the medieval way, holding it between the index finger and thumb to savour the flavour. They are that delicious!

[1] Pork was used as lamb was not available, which was a pity as the dill would go perfectly with lamb.
[2] Instead of covering each rib the entire slab was covered.

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