Summer is coming. Yeah sure. In short snaps. Rain, drizzle, a brief grip on sun and heat and then its out of reach again. Blink twice and youll miss it. There is too much Irish in the weather. What we need is Thai.
If food could be a season, summer would be Thai. It is the sweetest and most pungent of cuisines. Sugar and sour, heat and salt, and a little bitter just on the periphery. This is complicated cooking. Hit the right balance and the dish is delicious. Go off a note or two and the edge is lost, the food tastes muddy, the flavours are blurred and the sun is gone.
The bitter is perhaps the hardest flavour to capture. One of the easiest ways is to use lime leaves. These are makrut limes but are also often sold just as citrus leaves. They are important to the food of South Eastern Asia and can be found in better Asian and Chinese grocery stores. The fruit is rarely used. The leaves are sold separately. They feel tough and waxy and are a dark green. If chewed raw the bitter lemony oil bites the tongue. Chewed, it tastes like an overdose of citronella. Yech. But that is not how these leaves are used. Lets be a little more subtle.
Left alone, lime leaves have a faint lovely citrus smell. But tear one slightly and a buttery perfume escapes that is both grassy and lemony.
These leaves are often used like bay leaves but I find lime leaf flavour stronger. Shred a few lime leaves and toss them into curries or stews near the end of cooking. (They easily come off the stem, but leave a small sharp thorn so be careful when you use them.) Stick a couple of torn lime leaves into the cavity of a fish before cooking it. I even have a little experiment going with a sprig in a bottle of gin. It should be great for gin and tonics ... if summer ever comes.