Page 4 of 5
- Louie Preciado
4. Kaffir lime leaves
The shiny, two-lobed lime leaf formerly known as kaffir is a tough little bugger; in most dishes, notably ones from Thailand and Indonesia, it's either removed before serving or left to the diner to extract. But its toughness didn't save it from a name change. Turns out, and this is apparently not new news, that kaffir is a derogatory term in parts of Africa and the Muslim world: "The k-word is equivalent to the n-word" in some countries, noted one correspondent. Fortunately, there need be no hysteria over citrus hystrix; there's another, albeit less well-known, name at the ready: Makrut lime. Though it will take some time for the non-PCC (politically and culinarily correct) term to complete its fall from grace, we might as well get used to using makrut.
We should get used to it for practical reasons as well. Makrut leaves (the zest of the actual lime is occasionally used as well, but the juice is deemed too acidic by most cooks) are marvelously fragrant, they are indispensable in Thai fish cakes, in soups such as tom yum and in curries such as the popular Panang ... and they are unexpectedly good muddled at the bottom of a glass in which you plan to make a gin and tonic. Don't wait until summer.
You may have to wait for FedEx, however. The leaves by whatever name are difficult to find locally (try Mr. Tim's on Bandera), so you will likely have to either find an actual tree (my twig of a plant is looking very poorly at the moment, alas) or order the fresh leaves online. Fortunately, they freeze well. Once in hand, here's another trick to try: Put five or six in a quart jar and pour a bottle of decent-ish gin over them. Cap and put in a dark place for a week or until the gin turns a light green and smells of a bruised leaf. Add tonic.
Find these flavors at Thai Dee, 5307 Blanco, (210) 342-3622; Bangkok 54 Thai Cuisine, 2515 Nacogdoches, (210) 822-5454; Thai Chili Cuisine, 19141 Stone Oak Pkwy, Ste 305, (210) 402-4042.