The past few weeks have been fraught with anxiety, curry-wise, as I’ve been unable to secure kaffir lime leaves or kaffir limes. But this has all changed — possibly forever — with an exciting new development. I am now the proud owner of a kaffir lime tree! (see above).
I purchased the plant earlier today at my favorite store, Bangkok Center Grocery on Mosco Street, which finally received a shipment in of fresh kaffir lime leaves, kaffir limes and — lo and behold — actual kaffir lime trees. This plant is three years old, needs a sunny window, and twice-a-week watering. “Where did you ship it from?” I asked the young proprietor of the store, hoping to hear something exotic, like Chiang Mai or maybe Phuket. “New Jersey,” he replied. Ah well.
Questionable provenance aside, this plant now guarantees that I’ll always have a critical element of Thai cooking, for which there is no substitute. (If you landed on this blog by typing in the keywords “what is a substitute for kaffir lime,” please know there is none — sorry.) Kaffir lime leaves can be finely sliced, or added to dishes whole, bruised or torn. (See related post on How to Slice Kaffir Lime Leaves.) They’re hardy leaves that freeze very well — I usually pick up a supply, then keep them in the freezer for when I need to add them to dishes.
Now, I’ll need to be patient if I want this plant to produce actual kaffir limes, pictured below. What do kaffir limes look like? As you can see, a bit like regular limes that have survived some sort of odd genetic mutation. They’re nubbly and gnarled, but absolutely delicious. The zest of one or two kaffir limes adds a powerful punch to a curry paste or other dish. (Interestingly, the juice is rarely used; this is one case where the peel is more valuable than the pulp.) In Thai cooking school, we often rinsed our hands with kaffir lime slices, which act as a gentle cleaning agent and impart a beautifully fragrant scent.
“How soon will my tree grow limes?” I asked the proprietor, hopefully.
“Five years,” he says.
*Sigh. At least I’ll have plenty of fresh leaves in the meanwhile.
Fresh kaffir limes, below.