Dried limes are a Middle Eastern ingredient also known as black limes, black lemons, loomi, noomi basra, leimoon aswad, and omani, among other names. They're small limes boiled in salt water and then dried in the sun; they ferment a bit in the drying process. Used mostly in soups, stews, and tagines, dried limes are a souring agent that add acidity, tartness, and a little sweetness to a dish. They work especially well with proteins like chicken, fish, and beef.
Iliana Regan didn't know any of this, though. "I did not do any research. I did not look it up. I didn't even think about it until today," she said. "I was like, what am I going to make? So then I looked in my refrigerator and freezer and just pulled out some stuff and was like, yup, this is going to be it."
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Because Regan runs a supper club out of her apartment, though, her kitchen is better stocked than most—or at least stocked with different ingredients. Many of the 18-plus small courses she serves at her dinners are intricate or unusual, like a "salad sponge" or squash with shaved macadamia and bruleed Meyer lemon cells. One course on the current menu (it changes seasonally) involves two "caviars" made from tomato water and black pepper stock, served in a nest of deep-fried, dehydrated spaghetti squash perched atop a tumbler of wheatgrass that Regan grows herself.
The dried limes smelled potent and tasted like "floral limes," Regan said. "I knew I had cream when I opened the refrigerator, so I thought, 'OK, there's a panna cotta." She wanted to add another element to it, though, something crispy. "So then I opened the freezer and my first thought was pumpernickel. I had an amazing pumpernickel bread pudding at Telegraph." Regan didn't have that on hand, but did have marble rye, which she decided was close enough. She dried a couple pieces in the oven and melted dark chocolate with cocoa butter powder to pour over the top of the crumbled dried bread. (Full recipe below.)
Regan steeped the panna cotta base—cream, vanilla, sugar, salt, and vanilla—with two crushed-up dried limes for about half an hour, then strained the liquid and added gelatin before pouring it into molds to chill.
Once everything was set, Regan cut out circles from the sheet of chocolate and rye, then arranged panna cotta half-spheres and flower petals on top. "It tastes like a floral lime panna cotta, with chocolate and marble rye crunch," she said. "I think I would be excited if I got this in a restaurant."
Regan said she thought the chocolate and lime flavors would work together because "I love key lime pie with hot fudge . . . I love hot fudge with everything, pretty much."
She said she might use dried limes again in the future, maybe in a sauce or a gelatin. "They'll be awesome with fish. They're super tasty and have a really bright lime taste, so it'll be nice to cut through something that's fatty."
Craig Schoettler of the Aviary, working with dried bamboo fungus. Regan came across it at an Asian market, and said the flavor is earthy and a little bitter. She learned that it's also called veiled lady and grows on "this mushroom that sometimes people call false morel, which is a stinkhorn, and they're ugly and disgusting-looking . . . it has an orange hue to it and they're covered in, like, a brown muddy slime."
Dried lime panna cotta over marble rye chocolate crunch
400 g cream
About 1/2 cup sugar
3 sheets gelatin, bloomed, or approx 3/4 T powdered gelatin
2 g kosher salt
2 dried limes, crushed
2 pieces dried marble rye, crumbled
200 g 70% dark chocolate, chopped
2 T butter
2 T cream
Heat cream, limes, sugar, and salt to a simmer. Turn off heat and allow to steep for 20 to 30 minutes. Strain and reserve the liquid.
Place crumbled rye in mini mason jars or small pie pan.
Melt chocolate, butter and a dash of cream in a double boiler. Once melted, pour over rye, just enough to lightly coat it. Chill.
Heat strained lime base enough to dissolve bloomed gelatin. Pour over chilled rye crunch in mason jars, about halfway up, place in refrigerator for one hour to set. Or pour over chilled rye crunch in pie pan and place in refrigerator for one hour to set. Use circle molds to cut out shapes.