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Move over lemons: Chef Kathy Gunst gives limes their time to shine

Lemons get all the attention.

Other than squeezing a lime wedge onto tacos or using the juice to bake a pie or mix up a batch of margaritas, how often do you consider adding the less-loved green citrus in your cooking?

Don’t make the mistake of relegating limes to a wedge on the side of your plate or glass. Cooking with lime is like adding a bolt of sunshine and warmth to your meal. Lime has an uncanny ability to make your winter cooking burst with flavor during this time of year when fresh, colorful foods can be scarce. Consider adding fresh lime juice and zest into smoothies, juices, cocktails, soups, salads, snacks, roasts, stews and desserts, and watch your winter cooking brighten.

Shopping tips: Yes, you can use bottled lime juice in all these recipes. However, you won’t have access to lime zest, the outside layer of the citrus, that can add so much color, flavor and scent to any recipe. In general, look for fruit that feels heavy in your hand, indicating it is juicy. Smell it: there should be a lime scent if it’s really fresh. And when you gently squeeze the citrus, the skin should feel slightly soft but still be firm.

Quick tip: Gently roll a lime on the counter under the weight of your hands to soften slightly; this will help release the most amount of juice.

Here are three quick recipes that showcase the bright flavor of lime as the star it’s meant to be.

Lime and chile peanuts

This is a riff on popular Mexican street food. Peanuts are tossed with fragrant lime zest, juice, chili flakes and a touch of sugar and toasted. They are then tossed with fresh cilantro and served warm or at room temperature with lime wedges. Serve with an ice-cold beer or snack any time of day.

Serves 4 to 6.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons lime juice, from 2 limes
  • 1 teaspoon lime zest, from the same 2 limes
  • About ¼ to ½ teaspoon chili flakes or cayenne pepper
  • 1 ½ teaspoons coarse sea salt (like Malden) or Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar or brown sugar
  • 2 ½ cups unsalted cocktail peanuts
  • ¼ to ⅓ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro (if you are a cilantro hater you can substitute Italian parsley or omit)


Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together the lime juice, zest, chili flakes, 1 teaspoon of the salt and the sugar. Add the peanuts and toss to coat them thoroughly. Place on the prepared cookie sheet spreading them out in one layer. Roast for 15 minutes and gently toss. Roast another 15 minutes and toss again. Roast for a final 15 minutes until golden brown and crisped up. Remove to a bowl. Gently toss with the cilantro and sprinkle with the remaining ½ teaspoon salt.
  3. If you make the nuts ahead of time, place in a 300-degree oven on a cookie sheet for about 5 minutes or so to crisp them up before serving.

Chicken with lime and coconut

Cold temperatures. Blizzards. Gray skies. Dreaming about a get-away? This bright stew — with coconut milk, lime juice and zest, fresh ginger and cinnamon — will warm up a winter night. It’s ideal for a weeknight (but is special enough for a weekend) as it can be thrown together in well under an hour. Serve with basmati rice and wedges of lime.

Serves 2 to 3.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons of neutral vegetable or safflower oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger cut into thin strips
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 shallots, very thinly sliced
  • 2 scallions, white section cut into ½-inch pieces and green section thinly chopped
  • 1 pound chicken thighs or breasts, bone-in or boneless, skin-on or skinless (your choice)
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon lime zest, from 2 to 3 limes, plus ⅓ cup fresh lime juice from the same 2 to 3 limes
  • One 13.5 ounce can unsweetened whole coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon chile paste or hot pepper sauce
  • ½ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro or Italian parsley
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce or fish sauce
  • 1 lime, cut into 4 wedges


Instructions

  1. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-low heat. Add half the minced ginger, ginger strips, and garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add all the shallots and the white sections of the scallions and cook, stirring to prevent burning for 4 minutes, or until the shallots begin to turn a light brown. Remove to a small plate.
  2. In the same skillet, heat the remaining oil over moderately-high heat. Add the chicken in one layer and sprinkle with half the turmeric and cinnamon, and a generous amount of salt and pepper. Cook for about 3 to 4 minutes, or until golden brown. Flip the chicken over and sprinkle with the remaining turmeric and cinnamon, half the lime zest, and more salt and pepper. Cook for another 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining minced ginger, ginger strips and garlic and cook for about 30 seconds. Stir in the coconut milk, the sauteed shallots, scallions and ginger, the remaining lime zest, the honey, chile paste, half the cilantro and the soy sauce or fish sauce and bring to a steady simmer. Let cook, partially covered, for about 15 to 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through when tested with a small sharp knife. (There should be no sign of pinkness.)
  3. Taste for seasoning and add more chili paste, salt and pepper as needed. Serve on top of steamed basmati rice and sprinkle with the remaining cilantro and scallions. Surround with the lime wedges.

Lime curd with lime zest

This lime curd is bursting with fresh lime and lime zest. It’s delicious served like a dip with butter cookies or as a filling to a meringue cookie or a layer in a vanilla or sponge cake. It can be a filling for a lime meringue pie or simply spread on toast. It’s also great to eat by the spoonful!

Makes about 1 ½ cups.

Ingredients

  • 4 limes
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 whole eggs, plus 3 egg yolks
  • Pinch sea salt or Kosher salt
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces


Instructions

  1. Wash and dry the limes. Zest the limes using a microplane or the small zester on a box grater. You want about 1 ½ tablespoons lime zest. Then squeeze the juice from the limes; you want about ½ cup juice. Set aside.
  2. Place the sugar in a small bowl. Add the lime zest and, using your fingers, work the zest into the sugar.
  3. In a medium pot, whisk the eggs and egg yolks. Add a pinch of salt. Whisk in the lime sugar, and the lime juice until fully incorporated. Place over medium heat and cook, whisking about 5 to 6 minutes, or until thickened enough to coat a spoon. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter a few pieces at a time until fully melted and smooth. Place in a bowl and press a piece of plastic or reusable wrap directly onto the curd to keep it from forming a skin. Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate, covered, for about 5 to 6 days.


Other recipe ideas:

Wait, there’s more than one type of lime?

Yes! Most of us simply go to the grocery store and grab a lime and never think twice about what type it is or what its flavor profile is. And there’s good reason. Until recently, you almost never found more than one variety of lime in American grocery stores. Seek out farmer’s markets and Asian, Caribbean and Latin American food markets to find other, more interesting lime varieties.

The flavor of lime ranges from sweet and sour to slightly bitter, fruity and acidic. High in Vitamin C, limes tend to be sweeter and more acidic than lemons.

Here’s a rundown of just a few lime varieties:

  • Persian limes are the variety most commonly found in American grocery stores. They are larger and tarter than other lime varieties. They have smooth, thin, bright green skin (ideal for zesting) and a fairly high acidity level.
  • Calamansi limes are generally found in the Philippines. A small, green, round variety, these limes usually turn yellow-orange when they ripen and the juice is used on top of grilled foods.
  • Key limes are a small, hybrid lime that turns from green to yellow when ripe. Also known as Mexican or West Indian lime, Key limes are smaller, contain more seeds, slightly less acidic and sweeter than regular Persian limes, and tend to be quite juicy. It is the classic lime used to make key lime pie.
  • Makrut limes (formerly known as Kaffir Lime) have bumpy ridges and are a vibrant green. Native to Southeast Asian and China, makrut limes tend to have very little juice and are prized for their zest and flavor. They are often used in curries and puddings. The dried leaves are also used to flavor Asian soups.
  • Dried limes are small limes that have been boiled in a salt solution and dried. Found in Middle Eastern grocery stores, they are a staple ingredient in Iranian cuisine. Add the powder to soups and stews to add a fragrant citrusy flavor.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lime and chile peanuts (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)
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Lime and chile peanuts (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)