This One Surprising Ingredient Swap Will Change Pesto as You Know It
Every dish ever, meet dill pesto.
My earliest memories of dill aren’t so great. Like many kids growing up in a Jewish-ish household in Boston, dill was a glorified garnish. It featured heavily in chicken soup, dill pickles, and whatever plate was covered in lox with little containers of cream cheese and assorted bagels. But I was a picky eater, which meant anything green was automatically rejected. Those little green leaves floating in my chicken soup? Goodbye! As for the pickles, unidentifiable green stuff bobbing on cucumbers in a sea of briney liquid? No, thanks.
Fast forward quite a few years and herby basil pesto had worked its way into my heart, and onto my pasta. I was living in San Francisco at the time, working at a restaurant called Betelnut, which specialized in Pan-Asian cuisine. Every day there was a new special but this particular day featured an infamous Hanoi street dish called Cha Ca La Vong. Tender chunks of fried white fish were dusted in turmeric, tossed in a sweet, tangy pineapple sauce, topped with some crushed peanuts and A LOT of dill.
We, as servers, were obligated to taste each dish.
Again, my pickiness reared its ugly head. I wasn’t a big fish eater, and certainly no fan of dill, but I was game. I took a bite. And then another. And then another. The simultaneously crispy, tangy, crunchy, and herby bites all highlighted dill in a way that kind of blew my mind. I hit up the farmers market on the way home, bought a bunch of dill and blended it all up with what I had on hand. That included fresh lemons and decent olive oil. I sprinkled in kosher salt all blended in a pesto-y sort of way. Unlike basil, which bruises easily and turns an unappetizing shade of brown, dill doesn’t need any blanching or chopping. It takes to the acid in lemon juice and the peppery bite of olive oil like a champ.
Now, for the test. How to eat this dill pesto? Since this sauce has plenty of oil, it stays good in the fridge for a few weeks, at least. Which is plenty of time to add dill pesto to every dish. My grilled fish? Delicious. Bottled Thai yellow curry from Trader Joe’s a bit bland? Perfection. Drizzled over ripe red tomatoes and snowy mozzarella? Sensational. My roommate at the time hated cilantro and her nachos needed…something, but wait, dill pesto to the rescue!
A note about picking dill: Don’t worry about being too precious separating the tender greens from the stalks. Dill is separated into three parts: the fibrous lower stalk portion, the slimmer, branched stalks, and the tiny green flower-like fronds on top. Everything but the lower fibrous stalk is completely edible. Consider reserving a few of the pretty green fronds for garnish. Store in a damp paper towel and they will stay green and vibrant for a week or more.
Dill Pesto Recipe
Hands-On Time: 15 Mins Total Time: 15 Mins Yield: 1 cup
- 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
- 2 packed cups dill (about 1 large bunch)
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 cup olive oil
How to Make It
Step 1: Wash and let wrap dill in a paper towel to dry. Pick the greens from the stalk (see not about picking dill).
Step 2: Combine herbs and 1 teaspoon salt in a food processor; process until very finely minced.
Step 3: Drizzle in oil with the machine running and process until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Taste and add 1 teaspoon salt as needed.
Step 4: Store in the refrigerator in an air-tight container for up to 3 weeks. Or transfer to resealable plastic bags and freeze for up to 4 months; thaw in refrigerator overnight.
Step 5: Toss with pasta, spread on sandwiches, or drizzle on grilled meats and salads.