chicken stew with dried limes

I cooked a Persian banquet for friends recently and used dried limes for the first time. (I say "banquet" which sounds terribly sumptuous and as far away from my Victorian cottage in shabby north London as the magic of the ancient Silk Routes or the Hanging Gardens of Babylon can be . . . although saffron and pomegranates were involved). Anyway, the dried limes were a complete revelation and I have to thank John Willoughby in the NY Times for the inspiration. He wrote "Holding one to your nose is a bit like sniffing freshly grated lime rind while standing in the center of a brewery" . . . utterly glorious. I was powerless to resist their  lure.

I don't need much of excuse to potter round my local Middle Eastern deli (the Phoenicia in Kentish Town). I love browsing and examining all sorts of intriguing ingredients, some of which I buy without any idea of what to do with them. I had seen the dried limes, looking like rather peculiar wrinkled brown ping pong balls and had no idea what to do with them. But now of course, having seen this recipe, I had no excuse.

I have to admit that this stew felt a little strange to cook, in that were no herbs or spices, just the chicken, stock and the limes . . . but the flavour was fabulous; fragrant and aromatic, an irresistible taste of Persia.

Serves 3-4
Skill level: Easy
Preparation time: 45 mins

6 chicken thighs, (on the bone), skin removed
2 tbsp olive oil
2 x medium onions, roughly chopped
2 x garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 - 1½ l chicken stock (depending on how liquid you like your stews)
4 x dried limes, well washed and pierced several times with a fork or a sharp knife. (This can be a bit fiddly, like trying to pierce a ping-pong ball, so be careful not to stab yourself!)
3 tbsp tomato puree
100g rice (preferably basmati)
1 x bunch of chives, chopped
1 large bunch mature spinach, well washed and roughly chopped. (Remove any large ribs if present. Don't bother with baby spinach, you need the more robust flavour of the mature green).
4 x radishes, trimmed and sliced very thinly
2 x spring onion, very thinly sliced (including some of the green stems)
salt (sea or rock salt by preference) and pepper to taste
1 x small bunch of fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped (about 60g or to taste)
100g walnuts, roughly chopped
450g Greek yoghurt to serve

  1. Generously salt the chicken with salt and pepper and set aside while heating the oil.
  2. Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large lidded pan or casserole, until hot but not smoking. Add the chicken and brown well on both sides.
  3. Remove the chicken and set aside.
  4. Add the onions to the pan and cook until translucent. This should take about 5 to 8 minutes. Make sure that you stir often so that the onions aren't too browned and are just golden. Stirring also makes sure that you scrape up any of the brown bits and stop the onion from "catching".
  5. When the onions have softened and reached the translucent stage, add the garlic. Stir and cook for a further minute.
  6. Add the chicken stock, dried limes, tomato puree and the chicken thighs.. Stir and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir occasionally and push the limes back into the stock. (They do have a tendency to bob about like the previously mentioned ping-pong balls!)pushing limes into liquid.
  7. Add the rice, stir, cover, and continue to simmer slowly until rice is tender and chicken is fully cooked. This will take about 15 to 20 minutes. Do not over cook as the rice will become "claggy" and the whole flavour will be too aromatic. The limes end up tasting a bit like stale perfume if overcooked!
  8. Mix chives and spinach into pot for the last 5 minutes of the cooking time, so that they are lightly cooked through.
  9. Remove lime and taste. Adjust the seasoning if necessary. 
  10. Serve each portion topped with a sprinkling of radishes, spring onions, mint and walnuts. Serve the yoghurt separately.


Patricia said...

I wonder if I could use the limes that I dried myself ? What I mean is .... you know when you buy a load of limes, 'cause you like their colour and fresh citrus flavour and don't use them in time, 'cause you don't prepare enough recipes that use them, they shrivel up in the fruit basket until you decide to throw them on the compost, where they will sit for another 100 years.
It seems like a lovely recipe, I love delicate Middle eastern flavours.

Marmaduke Scarlet said...

I'm really not sure if you can do them in the oven . . . no reason why not to try . . . they should end up looking like small, hard, lime-like ping pong balls!

I have loads of the dried ones, so if you to mail me your address I could send some over to you :)