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World Supper Adventure

Inviting myself to dinner, around the world, to bring recipes and tales of great hospitality home to you.

These guys have a lot of names: Loomi, dried or black lemons (though they’re actually limes), leimoon basra, leimoon aswad, leimoon omani…lots of names.

I saw them everywhere as soon as I got to Dubai.  Spice markets, grocery stores, little convenience shops. So they’re obviously a staple in middle eastern cooking.  Mostly in Iraqi,  Iranian, and Kuwaiti cuisine,  but really everywhere. Egypt, Lebanon, and Persia can’t live without them either and India, which only uses them a bit,  produces and exports a lot of the loomi you’ll buy outside of the middle east.

So, what do you do with these bad boys?  So many things, and they’re used both whole (with a thumb poke) or powdered, depending on the recipe. When whole they’re tossed into soups and stews, boiled with meats, or used to sour chutney.  Ground up it’s a flavor for rice, rubbed on meat, and baked into breads.

If you look for loomi, they can range in color from a light tan (like in my photo) to black and you’ll find them in the spice area. But unless you’re in this particular sandy part of the world,  have an incredibly fantastic international market near you, or are willing to order them online, you’re likely to have trouble,  so here’s how you make them:

Start with ripe limes.   Boil them in rolling salt water for at least 5 minutes, but 10 is plenty.  Your salt to water ratio needs to be  about 1 cup/1 gallon and you can use whatever salt you prefer…as long as you don’t prefer iodized.  When they’ve cooled off you string them up……and let them dry COMPLETELY in the sunshine.  There’s no straight answer about how long the drying takes, my answers ranged from 1-4 weeks.  I suppose it really just depends on your climate.  So there you go!  Homemade loomi!  You’re now ready to blast a sour tang into your Middle Eastern and Persian dishes.  Now, I guess if you have lazy bones and don’t want to go through this routine you can just replace the loomi with lime zest, but the flavor you get won’t be anywhere even close to correct,  and if you even thought about it you really ought to be ashamed of yourself.

With so many things to do with loomi, it was hard to narrow down dishes to share, but here are two recipes for you.  They’re both delicious but one is veg and one non-veg.

1. Chicken Machboos

First recipe: Chicken Machboos. A traditional Kuwaiti dish.  If you’d like, feel free to substitute the chicken with two pounds of goat, lamb, camel, fish, or shrimp.

To get started rinse one whole fryer chicken inside and out.  Kuwaiti chickens are a bit smaller than they are in places where chicken is pumped with hormones, so if you want to be more authentic either get two small Cornish hens or a fancy organic fryer.  Put your chicken in a stockpot with enough water to cover. Add 1 cinnamon stick, 5 cardamom pods, 6 cloves, and 7 black peppercorns. Bring to a boil and continue to boil uncovered over medium heat until chicken is fully cooked.  This should take about 45 minutes. Poultry is fully cooked when it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees ferenheit…in case you care to know things like that. Remove and drain the chicken, and set aside the broth for later.

Skim the fat off the top of the broth and strain to get out the whole spices. Prepare 3 cups of basmati rice (or another short grain rice) according to its package directions, but use your broth instead of water. Add salt if you like.

While rice is cooking, sautee 2 diced yellow onions in a skillet with 2 TB olive oil over medium heat, stirring often, until caramelized. Stir in 1/4 cup of raisins that you’ve soaked in hot water and drained, 1 ts ground loomi, 1/2 ts ground cardamom, 1/2 ts ground black pepper, and 1 TB of honey. Cook for one minute, scrape the mixture from skillet, and set aside.

Lightly coat the drained chicken with flour. In another skillet, over medium-high heat, brown the chicken, turning often, until the outside is brown and crispy.

For the tomato sauce, add 1/4 cup water, 2 seeded/chopped tomatoes, 4 cloves crushed garlic, and 1 TB tomato paste in a saucepan. Simmer until tomatoes are soft and stir until it’s well blended.

When the rice is ready, spread it on a serving platter. Sprinkle the onion over the rice and place the chicken on top. Smother the chicken in the tomato sauce while it’s on the platter and gobble it up!

2. Bahraini Stew

Next we have a veggie Bahraini Stew.

Warm up a saucepan with 2 TB olive oil.  Crush 2 cloves garlic with 1 TB salt and 1 green chili.  Toss that in the pan with 1 cup chopped onion, 1 ts cinnamon, 6 whole black peppercorns, 1 ts ground clove, 1 ts ground cardamom, 1 ts turmeric, 1 ts baharat spice*, 1 ts dried coriander, and 1 ts cumin.

When onions have been cooking for about 7 minutes add 1 large eggplant cut into cubes, 1 tiny pumpkin cut into cubes,  and 1 large potato cut into cubes.  Stir until they are well coated with the spices.

Add 2 large chopped tomatoes, stir and let simmer with a cover for 5 minutes.  Dissolve 3 TB tomato paste with 1 cup water and pour into the pan.  Add 2 whole loomi that you’ve poked a hole in with your thumb, stir, and let simmer uncovered for 5 minutes.  Lower heat and let cook covered for another 10 minutes.

Add salt to taste and let simmer uncovered until sauce is nice and thick.  You can eat this over rice or with some nice warm flat bread…I would choose the flat bread.

So there you have it.  Loomi.  Neat, huh?  Please let me know if you try drying them yourself.  I’d like to know how long it takes where you are.  Have fun!

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