Some ingredients seem magical and unreachable. Their very names, even in translation, evoke distance, time, an immigrant's longing for home, the stories we tell to remind ourselves we are not lost to those we love. My list is undoubtedly different than yours (these may be everyday ingredients to you!) but here are a scant few:
Black mustard seed
Now, I've used or eaten most of the things on this list at one time or another. I fell in love with cashew fruit in Brazil, I love the pop of black mustard seed when I make Indian food, szechuan peppercorn thrills and then numbs my taste buds (though I don't cook well with it) and I've gotten past the initial shock of durian fruit to taste its subtle sweetness. But dried limes have long eluded me. I could see them in Middle Eastern grocery stores and wonder how on earth would I use them? Then I'd be distracted by the halvah and olives, forgetting to get dried limes just to see what they're like.
Last week the New York Times food section ran an article highlighting some dried lime recipes. I jumped at the chance. And now, having made dried lime drink, I'm hooked I will try other dishes and see what transpires.
Dried Lime drink, from the New York Times with my notes
Break 2 dried limes into several pieces. (You can use a mortar and pestle or put them in a sandwich bag and smack them with a hammer. Their shells give after the second or third push with a pestle, but it seems almost a shame to crack them.) You can find dried limes in Middle Eastern grocery stores. They are lovely, suggestive memories of limes, inexpensive, you'll buy more than two in a bag and be glad you did.
Inside you will see soft, dark lime flesh, missing all moisture.
Combine 4 cups water, 1/4 cup of sugar and the lime pieces in a small saucepan, bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 4 minutes. Next time I may use less sugar.
Remove from heat and strain through cheesecloth or a coffee filter. I lined a colander with one coffee filter and that worked well.
Discard the solids. The NYT recipe suggests you don't add the sugar initially but add it now. I prefer making dissolving the sugar as the water comes to a boil. It's up to you.
While you can drink it warm I preferred it cold. I added a few mint leaves from the garden for brightness.
It tastes like the stories limes might tell each other in the corners of smokey coffeehouses, absolutely a lime drink, but with far more undertones than limeade. It was redolent with lime oil, tart and almost a bit sour. It was absolutely refreshing and lovely.
I'm going to go searching for more once-upon-a-time ingredients. Who knows what might happen?
(c) 2010 Laura S. Packer