when life gives you limes

My love of Middle Eastern inspired food is not something I ever shy away from talking about, in fact, I will often try and drive a conversation towards it where possible. And today, I don’t have to try and subtly change the subject, I can very blatantly exclaim about my latest feat – black limes.

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Black limes; also known as dried limes or limoo amani, originate from the Persian Gulf and are often used to add a depth of flavour to stews and soups or as an alternative to spices when seasoning meat.

The traditional method of preparing black limes is to blanch them whole in hot, salty water and then leave them to dry in the sun until their skin darkens and their flesh becomes dark and brittle. I had to be a bit more resourceful with my drying technique because I don’t live in a city anywhere near as hot or as dry as the Iranian dessert – even in the middle of June!

The internet was obviously a very helpful tool in my investigation of possible methods; I don’t have a dehydrator so that one was out of the question. The idea of drying them in the oven did seem the most practical, but on further research it was likely that the oven would actually burn the limes instead of drying them, and I didn’t like the idea of having the oven on for three days!

My chosen method was in a slow cooker. A slow cooker on the lowest setting – on my one it is ‘warm’ – is the closest way of emulating the warm baking on the Middle Eastern sun. Because it is not so much a setting for cooking anything, there isn’t the risk of burning the limes and the gentle warmth is just enough to dry them out nice any evenly.

Begin by placing your limes in a large saucepan with a teaspoon of salt per lime. The kind of salt you use doesn’t particularly matter; I used rock salt but table salt would suffice. Next pour boiling water over top until the limes are just covered. The salt will dissolve in the water creating a lovely warm brine. Leave the limes to soak for at least 5 minutes. The reasoning behind blanching the fruit first, instead of drying them from the get-go, is to remove some of the bitterness from the rind and pith.

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The limes that I had acquired were larger than the ones usually used so I sliced mine into 1cm thick rondelles. If you happen to have smaller limes then this method will work just as well when keeping them whole or even just slicing them in half. Arrange them along the bottom of the slow cooker, if you have cut them up; arrange them evenly so they are all touching the bottom on the pot. Cover and leave them for about 3 days, or until they become crisp and light ebony-coloured. I turned mine twice a day for a consistent dryness and drained any juice that collected once a day to avoid soggy, poached limes.

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When I use my dried limes, like any of my dried citrus that I have curated, I usually drop it into a sauce or stew, it soaks up the liquid; becoming soft and edible, while infusing the sauce with its deep, rich and slightly tangy flavours. You can also crush it up in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle to combine with oil or vinegar as a chicken marinade, or with flour and breadcrumbs as a crunchy coating for pan-fried fish.

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