Ha; did you think I ran out of recipes this week – or am I just being lazy? No, never! Actually I thought instead of sharing a new “IT” ingredient with you. That’s worth something isn’t it?
I use freshly squeezed limes over so many things – fish, chicken, tortillas, ceviche, key lime pie of course & let’s not forget about margaritas (but that’s not really a food is it?). I use lime zest over many things too. Now I want to try dried limes. I’ll tell you why: the sourness of citrus with the tang of fermentation.
Not sure if this will surpass Kale, but in a quest to decipher what the new “IT” will be, about a zillion trendsetting chefs were consulted. Among them, Boston’s Barbara Lynch (The Butcher Shop), NYC’s Amanda Cohen (DirtCandy), San Francisco’s Evan and Sarah Rich (Rich Table), and Austin’s Jodi Elliott (Foreign & Domestic).
Concensus was difficult (why be unanimous when you can be unique?), but there was one ingredient that popped out: dried limes, a classic Middle Eastern seasoning with a sour, aromatic tang and fermented undertones.
“Pound them up and grind them, and you have a powder for a spice,” says Sara Jenkins of NYC’s Porsena. “It brings a fresh brightness to anything,” adds Kim Alter of San Francisco’s Haven.
Though they look kind of like lumpy little rocks, dried limes actually have all kinds of uses as a flavoring. They are excellent used whole in soups and stews as well as lentil and bean dishes; when ground up, they’re great rubbed directly onto steaks or chops, or combined with other spices and a bit of oil to make a paste for rubbing on seafood.
First developed in Oman, dried limes are essential ingredients in the cooking of Iran, Iraq and the Gulf States. They also appear occasionally in northern Indian dishes. But unlike other once-exotic ingredients (preserved lemons and coconut milk come to mind), dried limes have remained well outside the mainstream pantry, even for more-adventurous American cooks. This is a shame. Dried limes turn out to be another one of those power ingredients that can transform a whole range of dishes with virtually no effort on your part.
The way they are produced could not be more straightforward: Small limes are boiled briefly in salt brine, and then they are laid out in the sun to dry over the course of several weeks.
In the Middle East, these limes are most often added whole to soups and stews. You simply wash them well, pierce them a couple of times with a sharp knife or a fork, and drop three of four of them into the pot. As the cooking liquid sluices through the limes, they add an evocative tang and a subtle complexity to the entire dish. It definitely brings new life to whatever seafood you rub it on too.
In Vancouver you can buy them at South China Seas Trading Company – Granville Island. This is where I buy my exotic spices & ingredients for Thai & Indian dishes.