A year ago, unbeknownst to me and apropos of nothing, my culinary-minded Papa in Seattle sent me a package. You can imagine my surprise when I opened a nondescript box from an unknown location...and a bunch of these green thingies fell out. What's that food?
They're finger limes! Relatively unknown in America until recently, finger limes are a microcitrus -- and not actually a lime at all, but a cousin. About the size of a gherkin, finger limes grow wild in the Australian bush but have been intentionally cultivated for a couple decades. It used to be quite difficult for the average consumer to obtain them here in the states, but a few years ago, Shanley Farms began growing them in California.
So what do they taste like? The flavor is something like a blend of lemon and lime with a slightly floral note. The tiny caviar-like beads that are contained within are actually the fruit's vesicles (like the elongated juice sacs in an orange or a grapefruit that make up the "pulp," only much smaller and more spherical). Simply cut the fruit in half and push them out with your fingernail or scoop them out with a spoon. They add a textural element (some have called them citrus Pop Rocks) and burst of flavor to dishes sweet and savory. I've sprinkled them on top of tacos and a variety of Asian dishes (they're particularly good with Thai food and sushi), and they're a fun addition to cocktails, but I really love to make them into finger lime curd (click that link for my recipe). The extremely fragrant rind can be zested or dried and ground into a powder for seasoning.
And not all finger limes are created equal! Some have yellowish vesicles, some green, and some blush or even vibrant fuchsia! Occasionally the finger limes will contain seeds, but they're small enough to be unobtrusive. Like most citrus, these little beauties are in season in our winter (typically September through February, depending on the specific variety), so now's the time to try them out!
If you're intrigued, you can buy a package of finger limes from Shanley Farms. Don't balk at the price -- a little goes a long way. Most recipes call for only a couple at a time, so one small parcel of finger limes can add zip to many meals. Have any of you ever tried a finger lime? What dishes do you think could use their tart, vibrant bursts of flavor?