Dill, parsley and lovage: the most used herbs in the Romanian cuisine
I've learned that dill (Anethum graveolens), from the Apiaceae family, is an aromatic annual herb which is originated in Eastern Europe. It has to be sown each year in the spring and it grows all summer, self-seeding for the next spring. If grown in your garden it will protect your roses from aphids by attracting insects whose larvae are feeding on aphid. Their beautiful umbrella-like flowers will give more color and aroma to your garden. It contains volatile oils, calcium, phosphorus, iron, potassium, vitamins C, B1, B2 and Niacin. Dill has many uses, especially in cooking, but also in medicine, as a remedy for stomach pain and stimulating infants flatulence, for lessening gas and improving digestion. It can stimulate the milk secreting of the mammary glands during the first days after birth, and also can have effect on insomnia and nervousness. Dill is rumored to give "everlasting youth" if consumed fresh.
In our country we cook a lot of food, each meal having a soup as an entree and a casserole as the main course. Because I like very much green peas and potatoes, the first course I learned how to cook was the potato casserole, followed by the green pea casserole. Each of these needs to have dill weed added right after finishing cooking, so the herb won't lose its properties. Fresh dill leaves are also added to fresh cabbage and green bean casserole, the last one also needing some parsley. We also flavor meatballs with chopped dill, and any other dish made with ground meat. Dill is great in egg salad or in cheese appetizers, or for spicing any fish, and as a dip.
In Romania dill is usually consumed fresh, especially in cucumbers, fresh cabbage, tomatoes and lettuce salads. Speaking of cucumbers and cabbage, we use dry dill, - meaning the whole dry plant, with stalk, leaves and seeds - as a spice for pickling cucumbers, green tomatoes and cabbage. An old neighbor taught me how to have the best dried dill for my sauerkraut and I've been doing that ever since.
Every summer, when dill forms seedheads, I buy a fresh clump from the market, selecting the biggest seed heads possible. Then I wrap it in a newspaper or any other paper, like a full covered flower bouquet, and just leave it in my kitchen cupboard until fall. This way I have all the seeds in place, meaning more spice for my sour cabbage. If I had taken it already dried from the market, many of the seeds would have been already lost because they don't keep the clusters wrapped, like I do.
The second herb that is heavily used in Romanian cuisine is lovage (Levisticum officinale), from the same family as dill. Lovage is a perennial plant that originated in Italy. It is usually propagated by root division, but it can be grown from seed too. I have lovage in my garden growing from a root clump which a friend gave me from her garden when she divided hers. Lovage contains volatile oils which gives the plant a special flavor. It also has many uses as a healing plant, same as dill, in stomach disorders, infant colic and flatulence. It is known to prevent colds, gall bladder problems and anorexia by stimulating appetite.
In Romania lovage is used for flavoring the sour soups of any kind, with meat or just vegetables. Nothing compares with the smell of fresh lovage added to a fresh-made sour soup, which wafts all over the house (like those in the cartoons!), tickling everyone's nose and making them drool!
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is a biennial herb which produces leaves in the first year after sowing and blooms the second year. I sowed parsley seeds last year and I had leaves all summer long for my soups and salads. In the fall I dug up the roots, even the small ones, and they gave flavor to a soup, together with some carrots and onions. The most common variety of parsley grown in our country is the one with a flat leaf - P.crispum var. neapolitanum, but some gardeners cultivate the curly leaved varieties, too. The best variety grown for roots is the Hamburg root parsley, very popular as a vegetable, especially for soup. Parsley has healing properties too and it is known to contain the largest quantity of vitamin C, even larger than oranges or any other citrus fruit, and vitamin A, especially pro-vitamin A, also called beta carotene. Thanks to these two vitamins, consuming parsley can reduce risk of colds, atherosclerosis, asthma, diabethes, colon cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. Parsley also contains vitamins B and K, flavonoids and volatile oils. Some of the flavonoids are working as antioxidants which are good in chemoprotection. Vitamin B reduces risk of heart disease. It is also very efficient as a companion plant, because its scent attracts predator insects like wasps and flies, which then feed with the worms they find on the nearby plants, such as the tomato hornworms.
As I mentioned, in our country parsley is associated with soup . Any noodle or dumplings soup is flavored with parsley, but we also use it in many casserole courses, or for flavoring fish and fresh in salads. As a curiosity, fresh parsley is also very good for our dogs if they are eating their own waste. When my dog was doing that, the vet said that it showed a lack of key nutrients in his food, so I'd have to give him a "hand" of parsley leaves everyday for a whole week. It wasn't easy, but I finally made him eat the parsley and the issue stopped. So, if your dog does that, try to convince him to eat fresh parsley and the problem is solved!
It's easy to have dill, parsley and lovage all summer, especially when you can grow it in your garden, but during winter it's hard to find herbs, or at least it was in the olden days. Now they have fresh dill and parsley (but no lovage) in the big stores all winter long, coming from the nurseries, but it doesn't have the same flavor as what is grown fresh in the garden. That's why I like to preserve these herbs during summer and have them on hand. The best time for preserving dill, parsley and lovage is when they are fully grown and their flavor is the best. During the years I've learned different ways of how to preserve herbs through the winter. At first I used to dry them between 2 sheets of paper; then I tried keeping them in a jar, with salt; but the most effective, which saves the flavor, is freezing. I pick up only the leaves from each of these herbs and put them in plastic bags, then inside the freezer. When I want to use an herb, I just rub the bag with the frozen herb inside, then open it and add the herb already chopped to any course I want.
Every winter I run out of frozen lovage, so I have to buy it dried from the store or from the market. Now I can find lovage, very well dried and saving some of the flavor, in special manufactured envelopes.
I hope my short story about dill, parsley and lovage will convince many of you to use them in cooking. As for me, I have a new goal for this summer : to grow more of these herbs in more sunny places then last summer. Can you tell what I'll be sowing between the tomato plants and roses in my garden in the spring? If you have read the article, then you'll know!
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