Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Preserved limes

About this time last year I went to a pickling workshop. It was very Portlandia to be sure - a bunch of white middle class women in hand-sewn aprons gathered around vats of vinegar in a sunny courtyard at the back of a Scandinavian homewares store one Sunday afternoon. Almost definitely, there was a bird on something or someone. But I was more than happy to succumb to a stereotype in order to learn a skill that stands me in good stead for life. That allows me to make the most of seasonal produce and enjoy it any time I like. In addition to pickled fennel and rhubarb we also made preserved limes. 

I'd made preserved lemons before but it never occurred to me do the same with limes. You can use them in cooking in much the same way (as an acidic note in Middle-eastern tagines or stews, grain salads, in pasta or fish dishes, with roast lamb or chicken...) but where these come into their own is in Mexican food, where lime goes with everything from beer to avocado. Which brings me to my favourite way to use them - in guacamole. A little preserved lime, chopped-up roughly, gives an incredible fresh zing and an added bit of texture to a dip that can often be a bit bland. Guacamole's a perennial favourite but really, it's synonymous with summer - beer and sun, beaches and bare feet - when limes aren't as plentiful or cheap as they are now... which makes preserving them the way to go. And if you made them last winter, like me, you can conjure up summer any time you like, no matter what season you're in.

Preserved limes
Adapted from a recipe by the lovely Sydney cafe Cornersmith 

This makes 2 x 500ml jars. When using, scrape off the flesh and just use the rind.

1 kg limes (plus extra for juicing if fruit is quite dry)
80-100g salt
spices of your choice - bay leaf, peppercorns, allspice, cinnamon stick or cloves

Sterilise jars and let cool completely. Cut fruit into quarters (or halves if very small).

Put a tablespoon of salt into the bottom of each jar.

Put a few layers of lime segments in the jar, pressing down as you go to release the juices.

Sprinkle another layer of salt. Then add anothe layer of segments. Slide spices into the sid eo feach jar. Repeat the lime layers and salt, til jar is full. Remember to keep pushing down fruit as you go, as it needs to be completely covered in juice. If your fruit hasn't released enough of their own juices, squeeze a few extra and pour juice over.

Leave 1cm of space from the top of the fruit to the lid, so the fruit is not touching it.

Seal and let sit in a cool, dark place for six weeks.

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