In the limelight Wandering through the open markets of Israel last year, I came across an ingredient I didn't recognise. It was about the size of a golf ball, but lightweight and slightly wrinkled. There were two types: some were tan, the others a very dark reddish-brown. Our friend and guide explained that both were limu omani, or dried limes, and that they were used in Middle Eastern cuisine. Of course, I bought some of each to bring home, then started researching them.
They're made by simmering the fresh fruit in salt brine, then leaving them out to sun-dry. When you cut the dried limes in half, you can see the membranes and segments of the fruit have turned dark brown. They're aromatic and complexly flavoured, with fermented notes - although not as sour as you'd expect. The seeds are bitter (as with fresh limes), so I remove them.
You can make the dried limes into powder by cutting them up and processing them in a spice or coffee grinder. The powder can then be used in spice blends for seasoning poultry or seafood.
Whole dried limes are delicious in a chicken tagine. Start by seasoning chicken pieces (legs and thighs are best) with salt and pepper, then sear them in hot oil in the bottom of a tagine. Remove the chicken pieces, then sauté a good quantity of sliced onion and some garlic in the hot fat.
When the onions are soft, add some grated ginger and a sprinkling of salt. Stir for a few seconds, then arrange the chicken pieces on top. Add enough unsalted home-made chicken broth to the pan so it comes about halfway up the sides of the chicken pieces.
Pierce two or three dried limes with a sharp skewer and nestle them, in the liquid, among the chicken pieces. Cover the tagine and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is tender. The limes will have absorbed some of the liquid and become plump and soft. Squeeze the limes over the ingredients in the tagine to extract the liquid, then discard the solid parts. Stir in some fresh parsley, then serve with couscous.