This month in the Spice Rack challenge, as led by Mother’s Kitchen, little old me contributed to the choice of spice of the month! While signing up for the spice rack challenge, I suggested to Mother’s Kitchen that she choose dried limes for one of the month’s challenges. And she did! Well, she chose citrus, but that works for me! I made this suggestion out of selfish intent, as I wanted an excuse to use the dried limes I had procured from a Middle Eastern grocery in Vancouver. I fell in love with Persian food while taking a little vacay in Vancouver, BC. North Vancouver is filled with Middle Eastern and Iranian delis, groceries and restaurants and I love how the cuisines of these countries use tangy and sour flavors.
Have you seen a dried lime? Dried limes, or in Iran limu-omani, are limes that are boiled in a salt brine then dried in the sun, and sold whole or powdered. The whole ones are best, and you can grind or food process them as needed and they will be at their freshest. When you first see a dried lime, you may think that you let those limes from a few months back get a little too old. Nope! They’re supposed to look like that, fool!
Dried limes are brown or black on the outside, the size of a golf ball, and very lightweight. Welcome to the world of the dried lime! Once you grind it open, the inside will be brown to black as well. The insides of the dried limes I purchased were a shiny black. John Willoughby of the New York Times described them thusly (and awesomely), “Holding one to your nose is a bit like sniffing freshly grated lime rind while standing in the center of a brewery.” Now that’s what I’m talking about! Check out these lil’ beauties!
Only a mama dried lime could love that face!
Dried limes are pretty much what they sound like. Limes dried in the sun. Yep, fermented limes! And you can taste the fermentation. They are not simply lime zest or lime juice, dried limes have a taste best described like the kids on Facebook do these days. It’s complicated, yo! Dried limes have the sour, citrus-y notes that you’re used to in lemons and limes, but because they are fermented, the taste intensifies. There is an extra sour, funky tanginess that you get with a dried lime that I’ve never tasted anywhere else. You gotta try these, y’all!
To use, grind the whole dried lime in your food processor or smash them up in your mortar and pestle, which is what I did.
I decided to make a Persian dinner and use dried limes in as many ways as I could. I made chicken kebabs, rice, salad and a dried lime tea. Here, I will mainly tell you about the rice dish I made. I adapted the Lubia Polo recipe by Madhur Jaffrey, from her cookbook World Vegetarian.
Persian Style Rice Pilaf with Veggies and Dried Lime
1 cup basmati rice. The best rice, in my opinion.
2 cups green beans or veggie of your choice.
1-2 TBSP oil
1 medium sized onion, diced
½ cup tomato puree
2 tsp garam masala. Double S was making Indian food that weekend, so we toasted and ground our own garam masala. She used: cumin, turmeric, chili, coriander, black pepper, and so on. You can also use store bought garam masala.
1-2 dried limes, all smashed up.
1-2 TBSP Butter
1/2 Tsp turmeric
A few slices of potato
1. Give your basmati rice a few rinses in cold water, then run it through a colander to drain it. Boil the rice in 2 cups of lightly salted water and one dried lime, crushed up in your food processor or mortar and pestle.
This step will infuse even more dried lime flavor into the dish. Cook the rice until it’s just short of being tender. This is important. We had to do this twice to get it right. Rice cooks fast. Remember, the rice is supposed to not be done and supposed to still have water in it. You’re going to cook it again, so don’t freak out! Drain the rice well and set it aside.
2. Now make the veggie filling. Rinse and cut your green beans into about 1-2 inch pieces. I think this recipe could also work with other long beans, okra, etc. Heat 1-2 TBSP oil in a skillet and add the diced onion. Saute till onion is soft and slightly brown. Add ½ cup tomato puree—I used pureed San Marzano whole tomatoes that we had left over. I only added 1/3 cup to mine and it was slightly dry. I think ½ cup could do the trick. Add 1-2 tsp garam masala. Cook until beans are tender and mixture has thickened up quite a bit.
3. Take the mixture off the heat, then add another dried lime, ground up again in food pro or mortar and pestle. Set mixture aside.
4. Now for the hard part. Get a non stick pan and melt 2 TBSP butter. I only used one TBSP and again, it was a bit dry and didn’t hold up as I would have wanted. I think that 2 TBSP of butter would only improve this dish. It’s butter, people.
5. Then stir in ½ Tsp of turmeric and about 1 TBSP of water. Layer the bottom of the pan with potato, sliced thin.
6. Now, gently, add half the rice, then all of the veggie mixture, then the rest of the rice.
7. Cover the pan and cook on medium heat for 10 minutes. Then reduce the heat to the lowest temperature you can. Place a small dish towel over the top of the pan, then place the lid on top of the towel. The towel is there to absorb the water that will condense inside. Don’t forget to fold the towel as small as is needed so you don’s set you house on fire.
8. Cook on the lowest heat for 20 minutes or so, then take pot off stove and let rest for 5-10 minutes with the lid on. What you’re trying to do here is brown the potatoes, and let the rice around the edges of the pan crisp up and brown.
9. When you’re ready for the moment of truth, uncover the pot and put a serving plate upside down on top of the pot and invert very carefully onto the plate.
And you’re done! This is supposed to come out something like this:
Mine came out like this. But it was my first time trying to cook rice like in the Persian style! And hey, it tasted awesome. Great vegetarian dinner or side dish.
We had this dish with some Persian kebabs, marinated and then basted with dried lime and butter, salad with a fresh lime and sumac dressing, and pita.
Give it a try! You can find dried limes at most international markets or at Middle Eastern grocery stores. What else can you do with dried limes? Pierce them and add them whole to soups and stews. Grind them in grinder and use as a rub for a steak or pork chop, or on fish or shrimp right before you put them on the grill. Add a bit of oil to make a paste so it sticks better. You know how well shrimp takes to sour flavor like tamarind and lemon. Exactly! Make a tea by boiling the dried limes in water. With some sugar you get a delicious taste very similar to iced tea with lemon.
Try and enjoy!