There’s a small international food shop a ten minute walk from me that has become my go-to place for spices since moving to Plymouth. On my most recent trip (I’d run out of pepper, so it was very necessary), I picked up a small bag of dried limes – a complete impulse buy, but one I doubt I’ll regret.
Dried limes are a staple, yet little known, spice in Persian and Arabian cookery and I first tasted their effects in a small Persian restaurant in Manchester whilst visiting my parents this February. Having had no previous experience of Persian food, besides Persian-influenced curries (dhansaks, biryanis etc.) we didn’t really know what to expect. I had a dish called gheymeh, a stew of lamb and split peas, and I attributed its citrusy, fresh flavour to the preserved lemons that are typical of North African cooking. It wasn’t until I looked up the recipe, that I found the dish was made with dried limes instead.
Dried limes (sometimes erroneously called dried lemons) or loomi omani, in reference to their origins in Oman, are made by boiling fresh limes briefly in salt water, then leaving them to dry slowly in the hot desert sun. A longer drying process means a darker colour and, so I’m lead to believe, a more smoky flavour. The end results are light, gently ridged spheres the size of a squash ball with colour anywhere from a light beige through to black. Once dried, the limes can be used whole, pierced with a skewer and simmered in stews, finely ground and used alone or in the spice blend baharat, or broken up and infused in hot water to make a tea (or exotic cocktail mixer, suggests the New York Times’ John Willoughby).
In all honesty, I’m not really sure what to do with mine yet. The smell, reminiscent of lime pickle from an Indian restaurant, is very exotic and enticing so they definitely won’t be sitting in the cupboard for long. A recreation of the Persian lamb stew is a no-brainer, but I’ll definitely be experimenting with them to add a fragrant sourness to lentil and bean curries and perhaps ground and used in a marinade too. I’ll let you know how it goes.