'I remember a time not so very long ago when in a Western city you could as likely find kaffir limes or kaffir lime leaves as [you would] moon rocks!'
I must agree with Charmaine's statement. It really wasn't all that long ago that fresh kaffir limes and kaffir lime leaves become readily available here in Australia. In fact, I think that the first time I tasted dishes cooked with fresh kaffir lime leaves may have been when Charmaine cooked with them at the cooking school I once co-owned.
On many occasions once upon a time I remember driving across town searching at various Asian grocery stores for dried kaffir lime leaves to use in my Tom Kha Gai. So to have a fruiting kaffir lime now flourishing in a pot on my verandah is really quite exciting for me, but I realise it's not something I should take for granted. When I posted a photograph of freshly harvested kaffir limes and leaves on Facebook at the weekend, fellow Hungarian, cook and food writer, Eva, from KitchenInspirations in Canada, wrote me a note saying 'I've never seen real kaffir limes (I use the dried leaves), thanks Liz!'
So I thought I'd ask on the interweb. 'Chefs and cooks, hit me. Tell me how you use Kaffir limes?' I asked via Twitter and Facebook. The responses came back:
A good assortment of replies and yet, like myself, few had used the actual fruit. Charmaine Solomon notes that 'the leaves and rind have a perfume unlike any other citrus and are indispensable in the wonderfully tangy soups, salads and curries of Thailand'. Apparently brined whole kaffir limes are available in Thailand and the rind is also sold dried. However, Charmaine warns that the bitter white pith must be scraped away from the inside of the skin before use.
Australian-born chef, restaurateur and author of Thai Food, David Thompson, suggests that the zest from the fruit is used in curry pastes and, he says, occasionally the juice is [sparingly] added to salad dressings. Interesting. He too writes about how one should 'scrupulously avoid the [very bitter] white pith', which he adds becomes even more bitter on thawing, if the fruit has been frozen. Indeed it does, I found that out through experimentation this week! Thompson finishes by saying 'Do not use the juice of frozen limes, except perhaps in the final rinse!'. Research indicates that kaffir lime juice does make a great cleaning product.
To me the flavour of kaffir lime leaves is quite heavenly, however I must admit there have been times, for instance when eating fishcakes in a Thai restaurant, that I've found the taste to be almost soapy.
My home-grown kaffir limes and kaffir lime leaves...
In the fullness of time I will share my recipe for Tom Kha Gai, it was very popular when I talked about it on radio years ago. I also make a cracker of a laksa, as well as a hot and sour Thai seafood broth. I use kaffir lime leaves in both. Again, watch this space for the recipes.
With a healthy kaffir lime tree producing a bounty of leaves and fruit, I've been searching for more unusual dishes in which to use the produce. I've been toying with the idea of candying slices of the fruit and then dipping half in couverture chocolate. Should I try this, I will let you know the outcome, though it may be with a selfie featuring me with a puckering mouth!
Recently, I came across this recipe for Kaffir Lime Gelato on Saveur (credit Laura Sant). Given the title of the dish, I thought the recipe was for gelato which, to my mind contains less fat (i.e. less cream and egg yolks) than ice cream. However, having made it twice now, I can confirm it is definitely creamier than gelato and the flavour is quite exquisite. My adaptation appears below:
CREAMY KAFFIR LIME ICE CREAM
500ml full cream milk
250ml pouring cream
2/3 cup caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon fresh kaffir lime zest (minus any pith!)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
6 free range egg yolks
4 fresh kaffir lime leaves, washed, finely sliced
sliced kaffir lime for garnish
strips of lime (citrus) zest for garnish
Combine the milk, cream, caster sugar, kaffir lime zest, sea salt, egg yolks and strips of kaffir lime leaves in a large Pyrex jug. Whisk well to combine (I used my lime green silicone balloon whisk... love to colour coordinate when I'm cooking!). Cover the jug with cling film and refrigerate for at least one hour.
Pour the mixture into a saucepan, then pop the pan onto the stove top and cook the custard over a medium heat, stirring constantly until it reaches simmering point. Meanwhile, wash the Pyrex jug so it's ready to use again. Remove the saucepan from the stove top. Pour the custard into the Pyrex jug, through a mesh strainer. Discard the strips and zest. Cover the jug with cling film and refrigerate until the custard is thoroughly chilled.
Now pour the custard into the bowl of your ice cream machine and churn until the mixture is thick and creamy. At this stage, I transferred the ice cream into a silicone mould and froze it overnight until it had set. Just before serving, remove the ice cream from the freezer and allow it to soften a little. Garnish with strips of fresh lime zest and slices of fresh kaffir lime (which you do not eat) and serve. This quantity serves 4-6. For maximum flavour and texture, this ice cream is best eaten within a day or two of making.
Adapted from Kaffir Lime Gelato on Saveur.
My favourite lime green silicone whisk, I love to colour coordinate...
Garnish with strips of lime zest or grated kaffir lime zest...
And slices of fresh kaffir lime (just for show)...
Tell me dear readers, do you grow kaffir limes in your part of the world? Do you use only the leaves, or do you also have a good use for the fruit? Do please tell. I love hearing from you, as do my other readers.
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.