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Sweet lime salad. Photographs by Nandita Iyer
Sweet lime salad. Photographs by Nandita Iyer

Opinion | Recipes to glam up sweet limes

The complex and delicate blend of citrus flavours in sweet lime come to the forefront in these dishes

Sweet limes are the wallflowers of the fruit world. Mausambi or sathukudi (as it is known in Tamil) is forever on the sidelines, allowing family members such as oranges and lemons to grab the spotlight. Not as sweet, not as tart, not as striking and rather under-appreciated.

If fruits were actors, sweet limes would be character artists and oranges the mainstream actors, stealing all their thunder.

Probably the one place a sweet lime gets due recognition is around hospitals. Nearly every hospital (which allows outside food) has one or more fruit juice vendors making fresh mausambi juice. Packed in a plastic bag with a straw tied to them (in the days before the plastic ban of course), this proper patient beverage makes for a soothing drink for someone convalescing in hospital. Small eateries and juice shops in many parts of India sell a combination of sweet lime and orange juice that goes by the name Ganga Jamuna.

In keeping with its undemanding personality, sweet limes will safely stay in a basket on your countertop for two weeks, and for over a month in the refrigerator. They do lose their freshness and juice content over time though. When I was a child, it was always heartbreaking to open the fridge for something interesting and find a lone, shrivelled mausambi staring back at you. This was particularly true during the wedding season, when a sweet lime would often be given as part of the thamboolam pai (return gift bag) in Tamil weddings, along with a coconut, betel leaves, betel nut, etc. This mausambi would just be shoved into the door of the fridge and forgotten. For, unlike the Nagpur oranges, sweet limes cannot be eaten on the go. They need us to sit down with a knife, chopping board and plate to get the skins and pesky seeds off.

I find the flavour of sweet lime complex, a delicate blend of limes, oranges and grapefruit. Rarely featured in recipes on food blogs or in cookbooks, sweet limes definitely have potential. Here are some of my ideas for giving this sidelined fruit a glam makeover.

  • Use deseeded slices or segments in a salad. The pale yellow colours contrast beautifully with pomegranates. See recipe below.
  • Use the juice in salad dressings for its fruity sweetness and mild tartness but do add some extra lime juice or a dash of vinegar for acidity.
  • Slices or segments of sweet limes, oranges and pomelos arranged on a plate, topped with chilli salt and a drizzle of mustard oil, make for an Instagram-worthy citrus salad.
  • Blend sweet lime segments, deseeded cucumbers, chilli, salt, pepper and olive oil to make a gazpacho. Serve chilled.
  • Sweet lime segments, chopped green bell peppers and boiled corn with chillies, extra lime juice and salt make for a juicy salsa to go with nachos.
  • To make a refreshing sweet lime rasam, stir in the fresh juice after taking the rasam off the heat. Mix in chopped segments for texture.
  • Try a key lime pie or lemon bars but with sweet lime juice. Don’t forget to use the zest of sweet limes and some extra lime juice for tartness.
  • Bake a tea cake with sweet lime juice and zest, coconut and poppy seeds.

When cooking or creating a dish with a mildly flavoured ingredient like sweet lime, try and avoid ingredients with a strong flavour profile so you can taste the delicate flavour of the dish. Ingredients like coconut, cucumber, lentils, rice, avocado, yellow bell pepper and corn fit the bill nicely.

SWEET LIME SALAD

Serves 2

Ingredients

2 sweet limes

1 cup lettuce leaves

1/2 cup pomegranate

1 avocado

Moong (green gram) sprouts or microgreens

Dressing

2-3 avocado pieces

2 tsp kashundi (Bengali mustard condiment)

2 tsp extra virgin olive oil

3 tbsp mausambi juice

Salt to taste

1/2 tsp poppy seeds

Method

Peel the sweet limes and cut into slices. Deseed the slices with the pointy end of a knife. Reserve a couple of slices for the juice to make the dressing. Wash and dry the lettuce leaves and tear into bite-sized pieces. Cut the avocado through the longer circumference. Twist to separate the two halves. Remove and discard the seeds. Scoop out the flesh with a spoon and dice it. Reserve two-three pieces for the dressing.

To make the dressing, in a mixer jar, take the reserved avocado pieces, sweet lime juice along with extra virgin olive oil, kashundi and salt to taste. Blend until smooth. Stir in the poppy seeds. I have used the dark blue poppy seeds in this recipe.

In a platter, scatter the lettuce. Top with sweet lime slices, pomegranate arils, avocado cubes and microgreens or moong sprouts. Spoon the thick dressing around the salad. Serve chilled.

Sweet lime rice.
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Sweet lime rice.

SWEET LIME RICE

Serves 3

Ingredients

1 cup rice (jeera samba or basmati)

1/2 tsp salt

A pinch of turmeric powder

3 sweet limes

1 tbsp coconut oil

2 tbsp 1-inch-long dried coconut slices

1 bay leaf

1/2 tsp mustard seeds

2 tsp split urad dal (black gram)

2 dried red chillies

2-3 green chillies, slit

12-15 cashew nuts (split into halves)

1 tsp fresh herbs for garnish

Method

Wash and cook the rice with 1/2 tsp salt, turmeric and one-and-a-half cups of water. Juice one of the sweet limes and mix the juice into the cooked rice. Keep aside for 5 minutes. The rice will absorb all the juice. Peel and segment the remaining two sweet limes, discarding pith and seeds. Keep this aside.

Heat the oil in a pan. Fry the coconut slices until lightly golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and keep aside. In the same oil, fry the bay leaf, mustard seeds, urad dal, chillies and cashews until the mustard seeds splutter and cashews turn golden brown.

Transfer this tempering along with the coconut slices over the rice and mix gently, adding in the sweet lime segments towards the end. Garnish with some fresh herbs.

Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer is the author of The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian.

@saffrontrail

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