An Ode to Dill, the Perfect Summer Seasoning

This story is part of our Dog Days Survival Guide, a collection of essays, recommendations and how-tos to help you get through the hottest days of the year. 

Out of all the seasons, summer undeniably has the best smells. Even though we admittedly have to spend the dog days dealing with some rough ones, like the sweat of a stranger standing too close on the subway or the scent of hot garbage radiating from the sidewalk, the sheer volume of pleasant summer aromas is unparalleled. Besides the obvious ones like bonfires and flowers and barbecues, there’s sunscreen, hot asphalt, fresh-cut grass, citronella candles and that slightly metallic smell of water from a garden hose. But nothing elicits such a visceral reaction in me quite like catching a whiff of dill.

Every summer without fail — usually on that first truly hot day of the year, when the temperature hits the mid-to-upper 80s and I have to finally admit that it’s time to install my air conditioner — I will be struck by a powerful, weird craving. “I NEED DILL,” my body will scream. To satisfy that craving, I’ll impulse-buy a truly absurd amount of the herb and then scour the internet for ideas on what the hell to do with it.

I can’t fully articulate what it is that draws me to dill to a degree that hasn’t been ridiculed by my family and coworkers alike. (Are my Eastern European ancestors to blame? Is dill affinity part of my DNA?) I love pickles, obviously, but it goes beyond that. It’s a versatile seasoning, refreshing and light, perfect for warm weather. I don’t cook, but tossing some fresh dill onto whatever I happen to be eating makes me feel like I’ve done something, like I’m somehow a culinary genius for sprinkling it onto a blob of cottage cheese and pairing it with some cherry tomatoes when it’s too hot to eat anything heavier.

That is certainly not the case, but I do fancy myself to be a dill expert. So without further ado, here are my favorite uses for the ultimate summer seasoning to get you through the dog days.

Put it in a delicious summer salad

If it’s too hot to turn on your oven — or if you, like me, just don’t use it very often in the first place — it’s time to embrace the summer salad. Make it for yourself for a light dinner, or make a larger amount and bring it to a (socially distant) picnic with friends. Watermelon feta salad (recipe here) is a nice, refreshing one that uses the dill with Mediterranean flavors, and my personal go-to is a cucumber honeydew salad (recipe here). The cucumber and the melon obviously pair nicely with the dill, and it’s got red onion, feta and honey to add a nice savory-sweet combination.

Put it in a dip

As I mentioned before, I’m a big believer in simply tossing some dill into cottage cheese, but if you’re looking to get a little fancier than that, there are plenty of actual dips that utilize dill and are easy to assemble. You can make a classic tzatziki dip (recipe here), or the aptly named dill dip (recipe here). I’m a big fan of lemon dill hummus (recipe here), and you can’t go wrong with a smoked salmon dip (recipe here).

Put it in a cocktail

The beauty of dill is that it goes in just about everything — drinks included. Cool off with a refreshing dill cucumber gin fizz (recipe here). Or if you, like me, are overwhelmed by the urge to take a sip of pickle juice whenever you open the jar, lean into your desires with a St. Dill martini (recipe here), a twist on a classic dirty martini that utilizes mustard seeds, dill sprigs and — naturally — a dill pickle garnish.

Put it on some salmon

Dill goes well with just about any fish, but none better than salmon. It’s a classic pairing, whether you’re cooking a lemon dill salmon in foil (recipe here), using it as more of a garnish on a classic baked salmon (recipe here) or simply putting some on a bagel with lox. (You hopefully don’t need a recipe for that one, but just in case, I’ve got you.)

Put it in a brine and make your own pickles

This is the last frontier of my dill obsession, the only dill recipe I haven’t personally attempted. But I’ve reached a point in quarantine where I’m desperate for a hobby, and I recently decided it’s time for me to take the leap. (Does this have something to do with watching An American Pickle a few weeks ago? Probably.) If you’re sick of baking sourdough bread or brewing your own beer while you’re stuck at home and want to try something new, why not make your own dill pickles? (Recipe here.)