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Calling all dill lovers: This old-school ham salad sandwich is for you

Starting with sliced ham makes it easier to get the meat finely diced.  (Scott Suchman/For the Washington Post)
Starting with sliced ham makes it easier to get the meat finely diced. (Scott Suchman/For the Washington Post)
By Ann Maloney Washington Post

Make me a bowl of a chicken or tuna salad, and I’m set for days. I love the ease of both and will happily eat them again and again scooped onto lettuce leaves, in sandwiches or on crackers for a quick meal on a busy day.

While ham salad is an old-school recipe that’s been around forever, it had not earned a spot in my regular rotation until a grocery delivery gone awry led me to this version that I now find myself craving.

I recently ordered a 3-pound ham (or thought I did) from a grocery service but ended up with 3 pounds of sliced ham – way too much for my household of two. Coincidentally, the grocery’s only option for fresh dill was a huge bunch of the bright green herb, far more than I needed for the recipe for which it was intended.

So, I brought the two complementary flavors together, and my new go-to meat salad was born.

The recipe is good to keep in your back pocket for when you have leftovers of the fragrant herb, which figures prominently in pickling, of course, as well as in Mediterranean and Russian food. I never have a problem using it up because I love the flavor it adds to roasted vegetables, potato or egg salad, as well as into soups and stews.

To enjoy this salad, however, you have to really dig dill’s grassy flavor as much as I do. Here, dill is not an accent but a nearly equal partner to the ham. The recipe calls for three-quarters of a cup of dill fronds, but I’ve used more. The dill flavor increases after the salad has been refrigerated for a day or two, which I love.

While fresh dill is essential to this recipe, the rest is open to interpretation. You can use any quality ham you like, cured or uncured. The beauty of the thinly sliced ham is that you can finely chop it much more quickly than you can whole ham, so I recommend starting with that. That way there is no need for a food processor to get it very fine.

Most recently, I ate the salad on lightly toasted brioche hamburger buns, with thick-cut dill pickles for even more dill flavor. The recipe calls for ¼ teaspoon of cayenne. If you like a little extra kick, as I do, make it ½ a teaspoon. Serve it with chips or a side salad.

This recipe has inspired me to plant dill in one of my patio flower pots when the weather warms so I can have it at the ready. I am imagining making a couple of dill ham salad sandwiches for a picnic or hike.

I wondered at my sudden craving for this dill-forward salad. Soon after making it, I read in “The Oxford Companion to Food” that the word dill is derived from the Old Norse dilla, meaning to lull and that dill water has been used for soothing babies.

Maybe herby dill dishes are just what we all need right now.

Dill Ham Salad Sandwich

1 pound sliced cooked ham, finely chopped

3 ribs celery (a generous ½ cup), finely chopped

¾ cup dill fronds (about 1 ¾ ounces), finely chopped

½ cup mayonnaise, or more as needed

2 tablespoons Creole or stone-ground mustard, or more to taste

½ teaspoon Cajun or Creole seasoning

¼ teaspoon cayenne, or more to taste (optional)

16 to 24 thick-sliced dill pickles (optional)

4 to 6 brioche hamburger buns, lightly toasted

4 to 6 lettuce leaves

In a large bowl, add the ham and celery and toss to combine. In a small bowl, combine the dill, mayonnaise, mustard, Creole seasoning and cayenne, if using, and stir to incorporate.

Add the mayonnaise mixture to the ham and stir to combine. If the salad is too dry, add a smidgen more mayonnaise. Taste, and adjust the mustard or cayenne as needed.

When ready to serve, place 4 pickle slices, if using, on the bottom half of the bun, spoon on some ham salad, add lettuce and top with the other half of the bun.

Storage notes: Leftover ham salad can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

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