Dill and tua nao (fermented soy beans). Northern Thais stir-fry the two together with garlic and chilies and eat the dish with sticky rice
I'm the sort of cook that lights upon an ingredient, falls in love (or falls in love again, if I'm reliving an old infatuation), does it to death, and then moves on. The affair is usually intense, torrid ... then one day my eye and taste buds alight on something else, and it's over.
I've had a thing going with dill since I wrote this post on bitter flavors in Lao cuisine. This fling of ours, dill and I, has shown surprising staying power; it's been almost four months and to date shows no sign of fading.
My time in the kitchen is not devoted solely to Asian food, and part of dill's appeal is that, to my mind, it's neither a solely 'Western' nor an entirely 'Eastern' herb. In fact my strongest dill-related food memories are from my childhood in Michigan and our time in Lao. As a kid I loved pungently dill-y tartar sauce (the mayonnaise might have had something to do with it as well), and the dish that made the biggest impression during a few sojourns in Luang Prabang is a chicken stew that paired the herb with coconut milk.
The other afternoon I got a craving for the latter, but I abhor supermarket chicken and hadn't had time to hit the morning market. So I used fish instead, lightened the dish up a bit with fish stock, and produced a delicious fascimile. If you doubt the appropriateness of pairing dill with coconut milk think of creamy dill dishes you might have had in the past - dilled potatoes, for instance. It's not such a big leap to just think of coconut milk as substitute for cream.
Lao-ish Dilled Fish Soup
Serves 2 enthusiastic eaters or 4-6 regular eaters
If you love dill you'll like this dish (it's also really easy and pretty quick). In Lao, Isaan, and northern Thailand dill is used like a vegetable; instead of removing the frilly fronds and throwing away the stalk cooks chuck the lot into the pot. Mushrooms are optional. If you want to take this from a soup to a stew cut the fish stock to 1 1/4 cups and increase the amount of coconut milk. Serve with rice (or stir in some pieces of cooked potato) and a simple dish of greens stir-fried with a splash of fish sauce, a pinch of sugar, and perhaps a few chopped chilies.
If you're not a fish fan you could substitute chicken stock and chicken for the fish stock and fish. I'd add the chicken in step 1 and tack on enough extra cooking time for it to reach tenderness.
2 3/4 cup fish stock
2 leeks, white part only, sliced down the middle lengthwise and then cut into 2-inch/5 cm strips
5 or so black peppercorns
3 thick slices of galangal (kha)
a big bunch of dill, stems and all, washed - 5 stems roughly chopped and set aside and the rest cut in half (across the stalks)
Optional: about 8 ounces oyster mushrooms, stems removed if you like and cut or torn in half (other mildish mushrooms such as enoki or straw mushrooms could be substitute)
about 1 lb. firm, white-fleshed fish, such as snapper, sea bass, etc. (a river fish would work well here too - salmon is another option), cut into chunks
1/4 - 1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 tsp. fish sauce
small bunch of chives, roughly chopped
3 lime leaves, layed on top of each other, rolled tightly into a cigar shape, and cut into the finest slivers
- Put the fish stock into large saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the leeks, peppercorns, galangal, the half-stalks of dill ,and the mushrooms, if using. Bring the liquid to a boil, then lower the heat, cover the pot, and let simmer until the leeks (and mushrooms, if using) are tender, about 10 minutes.
- Remove the lid, add the fish, and cook through, just a few minutes. Add the coconut milk (less for a lighter soup) and heat through but don't bring the soup to a boil.
- Add the fish sauce, taste for salt, and add more if necessary, by the quarter teaspoon.
- Stir in the chives, the reserved roughly chopped dill, and the lime leaves.
- Remove from the heat and serve.