Loomi: A Secret Ingredient In Middle Eastern Stews

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Loomi is known as black lime or dried lime in cuisine.

The prepared fruit is a regular addition to  Middle Eastern cooking where it gives a special tartiness, slightly acidic and sour flavour to dishes. The ingredient is often found in chicken, fish and other spice blends.

There’s a great phrase which I believe comes from Ottolenghi that these ‘look like fresh limes that were left to sit around in a fruit bowl and forgotten about ‘. That sums up their appearance and also conveys a rather disturbing attribute of an ingredient that might not be right for the guts too.

In Iran, these limes are boiled fresh in salty water and then blackened in the sun. It’s a classic case of solar drying. The limes shrink, become dry and almost crusty with a tan and black boot polish colour and all shades in between.

That process however creates something rather special! The limes take on a fermented, musky, sour and aromatic flavour. Forget sweetness as that disappeared with the drying. There is still a pervasive citrus note that would be expected for any fruit of that genus but now overlaying it is the strangely omnipresent tang of something that has been ‘turned’. Most of that flavour is focused on the leathery rind so that’s the part that should be worked into the cuisine.

These dried black limes are usually ground to a powder.  If you are making a Persian stew or soup then do as they do and add loomi whole or cut into pieces. In other instances they are pierced with a sharp stiletto knife a few times and about three to four of the whole parts are added as the broth bubbles away. Their contents are allowed to infuse the mix with their complex and pervasive flavour.

Being typically Persian means that lamb is the go to meat but I’ve seen commentators try it with chicken and even fish although personally only plaice really works here. The flavour takes you somewhere between the Red Sea and the arid deserts. What about prawn and shrimp? These are bedfellows for such an ingredient and again work wonderfully and in harmony.

What else works? Think about lentils and other pulses. It seems to enliven chickpeas but not fresh beans although broad beans seem to cloak themselves with pungent smoky aroma if some is allowed to just kiss the flesh.

A powdered loomi will lose its flavour all to easily so simply grind as needed. It’s a similar exercise to ancho chilli and the creation of pimento pepper in truth. We rub the powder on chicken fillets and pork steaks as we would a baharat. In fact I believe it is a component in some of those spice rubs and I certainly think it works with pimento mixes anyway.

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1 Comment

  1. I saw this is in New York a few years ago where the deli was suggesting it could be an ideal accompaniment for middle eastern goulash and a stew of course.

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