The distinctive aroma of kaffir lime leaves is addictive. The fragrance is at once citrus, floral and sweet. Just smelling them is enough to explain why kaffir lime leaves are often used in Southeast Asian cuisine, where they often serve roughly the same purpose as bay leaves in Western cooking.
Kaffir lime leaves are not likely to be available at your local grocery store, but Karen Chong, buyer of Asian groceries for the Buford Highway Farmers Market, keeps the leaves in stock all year round. She buys from California growers and says the supply is pretty steady throughout the year. However, occasional, and unpredictable, quarantines imposed by the United States Department of Agriculture may limit supplies periodically, she said.
Each glossy dark green leaf actually looks like two leaves joined together. Whole leaves are used to season rice, curries and soups. Like bay leaves, whole leaves are not eaten. Alternately, you can remove the tough central vein and then thinly sliver the remaining part of the leaves and stir those slivers into Thai salads and fish cakes.
At the Buford Highway Farmers Market, the distinctive leaves are sold in packages of an ounce or two, somewhere between 40 and 80 leaves. Leaves not needed for immediate use can be frozen and used just like fresh.
The market’s shoppers purchase about 20 pounds of leaves a week. “In winter, we sell more because curries and soups are more on people’s menus,” Chong said.
The trees do produce small bumpy limes with very sour juice. Chong said there’s not much call for the limes in this area, and the market doesn’t carry them.
Want to grow your own kaffir lime? This dwarf citrus tree is tolerant of cold temperatures down to just above freezing, so it’s possible to grow a tree in a container, moving it to a sheltered location when temperatures take a plunge. If you grow your own tree and end up with a few limes, you can use the very sour zest in your cooking.
Chong said the leaves are popular with the market’s American and Thai shoppers who probably use the leaves most in coconut soups and curries. And how does she use them? Her favorite recipes are two Thai dishes: prik khing curry made with long beans and tom yum soup.
At local farmers markets
Many local farmers markets have closed for the season. However, the Marietta Square, Decatur and Morningside farmers markets continue all year round.
Vegetables and nuts: arugula, Asian greens, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, celery, chard, collards, dandelion, endive, escarole, frisee, green garlic, herbs, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard greens, onions, popping corn, radishes, rutabaga, spinach, sweet potatoes, turnips
From local reports
Thai-Style Seafood Cakes
Hands on: 15 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes
You can use scallops, shrimp or a combination of the two. You can also substitute a half-pound of cod for part of the scallops or shrimp.
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
4 kaffir lime leaves, central vein removed, roughly chopped
2-inch piece peeled ginger plus 1 teaspoon grated ginger, divided
2 cloves garlic
4 teaspoons fish sauce, divided
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 pound scallops or peeled shrimp
1/4 cup unseasoned rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 small Thai chilies, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped roasted unsalted peanuts
Oil for sauteing
In the bowl of a food processor, combine cilantro, kaffir lime leaves, 2-inch piece ginger, garlic, jalapeno, 2 teaspoons fish sauce and pepper. Pulse 10 to 15 times until seasonings are chopped into fine pieces. Add egg and pulse again, 2 or 3 times, to incorporate egg. Add scallops or shrimp and pulse to chop finely, but stopping short of making a paste. Mixture can be made ahead of time and refrigerated, covered, up to 1 day.
Make sauce by stirring together in a small bowl the vinegar, sugar, chilies, peanuts, remaining teaspoon grated ginger and remaining 2 teaspoons fish sauce. Set aside.
When ready to cook, film the bottom of a large skillet with oil. Heat over medium-high heat. When hot, drop scoops of fish mixture into skillet, making 8 cakes. Do not crowd pan. This may need to be done in two batches. Cook cakes until brown on one side, about 5 minutes, then turn and brown the second side. Heat until cooked through, about 10 minutes total. Drain and keep warm. Continue with remaining fish mixture. Serve immediately with sauce.
Per serving: 270 calories (percent of calories from fat, 40), 25 grams protein, 17 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 12 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 103 milligrams cholesterol, 271 milligrams sodium.