“'What do you do with these?' I asked the woman behind the counter.
'Limu Omani?' she asked, arching her eyebrow as if I were a fool not to know. 'You give your cooking new life.'”
John Willoughby - New York Times
I have reinstated the combined special meal for David and the opportunity to cook something completely new from an actual recipe today. David chose Middle-Eastern and so I have been browsing through my quite large selection of Middle-Eastern cookbooks.. He also vaguely mentioned lamb, and I know he likes lamb so I bought some rump slices in the supermarket this morning thinking this would give me a few options from kebabs to a stew. It narrows down the search a bit too.
As I browsed my recipes it became quite clear that some of the most tempting recipes were not possible because I did not have the vital ingredient - dried limes - loomi omani. I had a look in the supermarket but was not at all surprised not to find any. And as I did my research for this post I noted that most writers seemed to think it was difficult to find them other than in Middle-Eastern stores. So I checked online and there are at least two providers in Australia - Hempie's Spices and The Spice People. And it seems that I can get The Spice People ones in a couple of nearby suburbs, or at Colonial Fresh Produce in Doncaster. So perhaps I should have a look next time I'm there. Because I have now discovered that it's virtually a vital ingredient for all things Persian, and that Yotam Ottolenghi also frequently uses it. Needless to say my choice of recipe for today does not include it.
You can of course try to make some yourself - preferably in summer when it's sunny and dry. Useless for today because even if you 'cheat' and use an oven it will still take ages. Tess Mallos, in her Complete Middle East Cookbook, has a recipe. You put your limes (halved if they are large) in a pan of salted boiling water (about 1 tablespoon of salt.) Boil rapidly for 3-5 minutes and drain. Then spread on metal racks and put in the sun to dry - it takes up to a week. Turn them daily. (I'd be worried about creepy crawlies and possums.) Or you can put in a very low oven and leave for 3-4 days. Which sounds a bit expensive power wise. They are ready when dark and the flesh is completely dehydrated. Tess Mallos says you should not make them too dark, but it seems that in the Middle East they are often quite black.
"Over the weeks, the limes turn black or dusky brown on the outside and lose so much weight that they feel hollow; inside, the juicy green flesh turns a glossy, maroon-tinged black." John Willoughby - New York Times
Much as I'm a fan of doing this sort of thing for yourself, I think that in this case you are probably best off sourcing some from a speciality kind of shop. The Spice People seem to have a lot of stockists here in Victoria although I guess that does not necessarily mean they stock this particular product. It originated in Oman by the way - hence the name.
You can also get powdered dried lime, although the general opinion seems to be that (a) it can be very difficult to powder your own - you might destroy your grinding machine, and (b) it's not got quite the same power in taste, although good to add to other spice mixes and to dust things with, either before grilling or frying or roasting, or as a garnish.
I have to say they don't look very tempting.
"Dusky brown things slightly larger than Ping-Pong balls, ringed with faint, ghostly stripes, they always seemed vaguely sinister. Even one of their common names black limes conveyed an air of culinary menace." John Willoughby - New York Times
However, all of my Middle-Eastern cooks swore by them and had no substitute for them - other than a dried lemon, which I would assume to be much the same. And they never suggested leaving them out. They seemed to be a truly vital ingredient. So what do they taste like?
"The pleasantly sour, aromatic tang of citrus is still there. But thrumming underneath it is a deep layer of culinary funk reminiscent of fermentation. Holding one to your nose is a bit like sniffing freshly grated lime rind while standing in the center of a brewery." John Willoughby - New York Times
And what do you do with them? There are tons of recipes out there, but the usual thing seems to be to make cuts in them and just drop them into a stewier soup, squeezing out the juices and discarding them before you serve.
"Their acidity cuts the fat in red meats; their sweetness enlivens poultry; their sultry funk adds nuance to fish." John Willoughby - New York Times
But just to show you a few of the possibilities: Chicken kebab with dried lime and mint from the Los Angeles Times, Kuwaiti fish stew with black lime from Herbie's Spices, Ghormeh Sabzi from a blog called The Delicious Crescent. This is a classic Iranian dish and you can also try Greg Malouf's version which he calls Fresh herb stew with lamb and dried limes. It's what I wanted to cook tonight really - but no dried limes. Then there is Yotam Ottolenghi's Iranian vegetable stew with dried lime and finally, Skewered tamarind fish with dried lime butter and chives from another blog called Lisa is Cooking, although she took it from a Greg Malouf book. And I have to say it looks yummy - but then they all do.
So there you go - another weird ingredient to first find and then try.
And what am I cooking tonight? Well I'm going Greg Malouf and something called Lamb rump with pistachios and peppercorns. Most likely this is not authentically Middle Eastern, but it's Greg Malouf and it's pistachios so I'm sticking with it. I bet my version doesn't look nearly as elegant, but I'll give it a go. It was also relatively simple.
I'll also do some green beans in a Middle Eastern way to go with it - yet to be found, but I'm not sure whether to go rice, pitta or potato gratin for the starch component. Malouf suggested a potato and goat's cheese mash, but David doesn't like mash and I don't have any goat's cheese, so that's not going to happen. But we do have baklava for 'afters'.