The next time you need a fragrant citrus kick for your salads, grilled fish or stews, skip the fridge and reach for your pantry.
What you are looking for is black lime, a Persian spice made of dried limes. Even if you don’t know much about Persian cuisine, you will soon find out that this will become your secret weapon in the kitchen.
Chefs like Ottolenghi have been trying for years to bring dried limes out of the home kitchens of Middle Eastern family kitchens and into the mainstream. So what exactly are they and how do you use it?
What are black dried limes?
Black limes are essentially fresh limes that are boiled in salt water and left to dry until they're rock hard, resulting in golf size, brown to black coloured balls with a brittle texture that easily yields itself to a grinder.
Also referred to as ‘limu omani’ (‘Omani’ because it was first developed on Oman), dried limes are an essential flavouring ingredient in the cuisines of Iran, Iraq, and other Gulf States.
This simple ingredient has the potential to transform a whole range of dishes with just a small pinch.
What do black dried limes taste like?
Sour and aromatic, like concentrated fresh limes, but beyond the obvious citrus flavour, dried limes present funky, fermented notes rendering it a complexity that cannot be found in its bright green former selves.
Its flavour, in many ways similar to the more popular sumac, is the cornerstone of many stews and braises found in the cuisines of the Middle East, breathing life into heavy meat dishes and otherwise boring vegetables.
How to use black dried lime
These are natural flavour bombs that can be used in two different forms, whole or in a powder.
When left whole, such as in soups or stews, black limes will rehydrate and infuse the cooking liquids with its flavours. Wash them well before using, and pierce it with a sharp knife to let it yield to the liquid.
The other way is to grind it down into a powder which can then be used as a spice or garnish. Ground black lime powder makes for a great marinade for chicken, or sprinkled over salads, meats, and pastas.
Cocktail bartenders are well aware of how to make the most of this astringent, sour spice. Black lime powder, whether used to rim glasses or used to dip slices of fruit garnish adds drama to any good tipple.