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Spices Unearthed: Kaffir Lime Leaves

fresh kaffir lime leaves from tree for asian cooking with spices and herbs

It must be the short, thick, needlepoint thorns on the kaffir lime tree that allude to its secret - that the tree is willing to forgo its fruit, but not its valuable leaves.

The round, green, wrinkly kaffir lime fruit is used for cooking - especially the zest with its intense, citrusy flavor - but it is the Kaffir Lime Leaf which is most sought after.  The glossy, emerald-green leaf with its hourglass shape is a key spice in many Southeast Asian dishes.  Crush one of the segmented leaves in your hand and you’ll quickly realize why.

The kaffir lime leaf holds a wonderfully fragrant essential oil reminiscent of lemon & lime, but with a distinctly warm, sweet, and refreshing aroma. .  It is a popular herb in aromatherapy, massaged in for skin regeneration and to increase blood circulation, as well as commonly added into a bath or into a potpourri to relax away any tension and rejuvenate you. The same effect you’ll experience when you’re in the kitchen, slicing the leaf into slivers or pounding it into a paste.

health benefits of cooking kaffir lime leaves with asian recipes

The sweet, floral, citrus aroma and flavor of kaffir lime leaves perks up a multitude of Southeast Asian dishes.  Pounded kaffir lime leaves in Thai, Lao, and Cambodian curry pastes, and in Indonesian beef rendang.  Whole kaffir lime leaves in spicy Thai tom yam soup, and sliced thinly in Malaysian kerabu salads or over turmeric prawns.  And sometimes, as easy as tossing in a couple of leaves to cook with the rice.

But don’t limit your use of kaffir limes to Southeast Asian cuisine.  The dynamic herb enhances the flavor of salads and dressings, and can give an instant tanginess to bland soups.  Kaffir lime leaves also complement spicy food, so try it out in your favorite Mexican dish!

southeast asian spices and herbs guide kaffir lime leaf

Kaffir lime leaves have a distinct flavor that can’t easily be substituted, so best to always have them in the kitchen.  Luckily, fresh kaffir lime leaves are becoming more available, and they freeze well.  Just place the fresh leaves in an airtight container in your freezer, and take them out as needed.

Read more about this series - "Explore Southeast Asian Spices & Herbs"

{Note: “Kaffir” is considered a derogatory term in some countries, so the name of the leaf varies widely. Kaffir lime leaves may also be called: Thai lime leaves, makroot leaf, makrut lime leaf, Asian lime leaves, daun jeruk purut, daun limau purut, wild lime leaves, bai makrut, Indonesian lime leaves..or just simply “lime leaf”.}


For a taste of Kaffir Lime Leaves, try one of these excellent recipes:
tempe chips or kipik tempe
Tempe Chips - Cooking Tackle
how to make chicken curry kapitan recipe?
Kapitan Chicken Curry - Season with Spice
how to use turmeric in seafood? Turmeric prawns recipe
how to make kerabu bee hoon recipe?
                   Malaysian Karabu Bee Hoon - Season with Spice
indonesian kering kentang
Indonesian Potato Chips - Indonesia Eats
thai corn salad recipe
Thai Sweet Corn Salad - Season with Spice

8 comments:

Rosa May said...

I love kaffir lime leaves! They have such an incredible flavor. I always make sure to keep a bunch in my freezer.

Cheers,

Rosa

Nami | Just One Cookbook said...

I've seen it in SE Asian cooking and I've been curious about this taste (although I might have tasted it in food that I don't recognize it yet...). Might sell in freezer section in Asian market? I have to take a look!

Victoria at Flavors of the Sun said...

I tried to substitute one of the very fragrant leaves from my lemon tree for Kaffir leaves once, and oh was it bitter. Lovely fragrance, but not at all the same. Lesson learned. I do have a friend who has a Kaffir lime tree--I'll just ask to pinch a few for the freezer. Great tip.

Kankana said...

I had no idea we could freeze it fro that long. You are right .. there is no substitute for it. I tried lime juice and yes it would make the Thai curry paste tangy but the flavor .. the perfume is not there.

Season with Spice said...

That's great, Rosa. Kaffir lime leaves can be used in just about any cuisine.

Season with Spice said...

Hi Nami, definitely give kaffir lime leaves a try in some of your Japanese recipes. You could come up with amazing fusion dishes.

Kaffir lime leaves should be in the fresh or freezer section of most Asian grocery stores (and becoming more common in general grocery stores). You can even buy a kaffir lime plant and grow your own.

Season with Spice said...

Hi Victoria, that's great that your friend has a kaffir lime plant. You'll never run out of leaves for your kitchen.

Season with Spice said...

Yep, there is just no substitution for some spices & herbs like kaffir lime leaves

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