A tinge of green: Kaffir lime leaves summer's top ingredient

From cocktails and soups, to mains and desserts, kaffir lime leaves are summer's top ingredient. Here’s what to try

Till 2014, getting hold of a bunch of kaffir lime leaves in Mumbai was a challenge for Prashant Puttaswamy, executive chef at Bandra’s Fatty Bao. His team would import them from Thailand and use them sparingly. “They’d be stored in freezers and used judiciously in Thai curries,” he says. Now, kaffir limes are available everywhere — from your neighbourhood ‘Chinese’ vegetable wallah to online food sites. And, their use is not restricted to Thai curries alone.

So, what makes these shiny, double-lobed leaves of a bumpy citrus fruit popular? It’s the rise in popularity of south-east Asian food in the city, feels Puttaswamy. Rahul Hajarnavis, culinary director at Shiro, JSM India, says their strong flavour sets them apart. “It’s punchy, bold and refreshing. Its powerful aroma entices the eater.” Kaffir lime is also making your cocktails and desserts more alluring. Here’s our what-to-pick guide.

Phad Kappraw Kai
Rs 325, Eat Thai, Bandra (West)
One of the most famous street food items of Thailand Phad Kappraw Kai is prepared with garlic, Thai red chillies, oyster sauce, sugar, Thai basil and kaffir lime. Sam Chakhap, head chef at Eat Thai, says the leaves help balance the flavours in the dish. According to him, if the leaves are being used to simply impart flavour, they can be torn into pieces like in stir fried items. However, if using as a main ingredient, like in salads, fried wok rice, the leaves need to be shred finely.

Kaffir Lime Panna Cotta
Rs 280, 38 Bangkok Street, Fort
Kaffir Lime Panna Cotta

The Kaffir Lime Panna Cotta is a deliciously zesty dessert made using dollops of fresh cream, fat milk, kaffir lime leaves, gelatine powder, blueberries and strawberries. Kaffir lime infuses this dish — the pana cotta has no taste of its own — with a distinct flavour and aroma, says Birendra Singh, corporate chef.

Rs 700, AKA, Worli

A heady concoction of vodka, apricot, brandy, cranberry infused tea, kaffir leaves, rosemary, orange zest smoke, the Performer is the signature molecular cocktail at AKA, Worli.

Malaysian Ramen
Rs 325,Fatty Bao, Bandra (W)

The Malaysian Ramen is an aromatic coconut broth with kaffir lime leaves, chilli, garlic, lemongrass, galangal and basil. The dish is served laksa-style — a type of soup popular throughout Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. The dish also has elements of curry laksa, in which the noodles come in a rich, comforting, coconut soup.

Cambodian Curried Prawns
Rs 595, Shiro, Lower Parel

The prawns are stir fried in a fragrant kaffir lime lead-based curry, and tossed with vegetables and glass noodles. The curries that hail from Vietnam are lighter on the palate than Thai ones. “Thais use significant amounts of ferociously spicy chilli peppers, while the Vietnamese use hot chillies sparingly. Kaffir lime balances out the spice in this dish,” says Hajarnavis.

Pink Julep
Rs 550, The Westin Mumbai Garden City, Goregaon

This mocktail is designed for teetotalers. Prepared with fresh watermelon juice, kaffir leaves, lemon juice and lemon grass syrup, this drink, according to head bartender, Keval Soni, was designed keeping the brutal summer in mind. “Watermelon hydrates the body, lemongrass acts as a palate cleanser and kaffir lime also protects oral health.” The leaves can even be directly rubbed onto the gums to eliminate harmful bacteria.

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