These tart little flavor bombs are a great way to add a burst of citrus to a salad, to season a piece of fish, or add to a dish of braised vegetables, or even chicken. You can use them as they are, or even go a step further and turn them into a big batch of Indian-spiced lime achaar.
Though there isn’t much to this “recipe,” it’s important to note that because these limes are naturally fermented, they do take quite a while to prepare. Set aside at least a month of curing time before your preserved limes are ready to use, though of course this will depend on the temperature where you are, and a number of other variables.
As with all forms of preserving, it’s imperative to pay close attention to cleanliness when making these. Make sure to sterilize your equipment before starting. This is as simple as thoroughly washing your jar (or jars) in hot soapy water, rinsing them well, and letting them dry in a warming oven set to 175°F. Once your limes are ready to eat (or to turn into a spiced lime pickle), make sure to use a clean spoon or fork to remove them from their jar.
Since these take so long to make and last so very long, I recommend just biting the bullet and making a large batch that will last you a good, long time. You’ll be thankful the next time you’re ransacking your fridge for something special and different to chop up into a vinaigrette for a last-minute salad for company.
A note on picking ripe limes: Ripe limes, contrary to popular belief, are not dark green, but tend toward yellow. In fact, since so many people tend to avoid the yellower limes in supermarkets, you'll probably have your pick of all the ripe limes you need. The fruit, in addition to being slightly yellow, should also give slightly when you press them, and should not look dry or have dark, blighted spots.
A note on seeds: The limes most commonly available in American supermarkets are generally seedless. If the limes available where you live have seeds, feel free to leave them in them or discard them depending on how willing you are to spend a fair amount of time picking seeds out of 3 pounds of limes.
Makes 3 lb of preserved limes
3 lbs ripe limes (preferably unsprayed), thoroughly washed, scrubbed, and dried
Coarse sea salt or kosher salt
1 large canning-style glass jar, sterilized and dried
1 square of clean muslin or cheesecloth large enough to cover
Using a sharp knife, cut the limes into quarters.
Layer the lime quarters in the glass jars, sprinkling salt liberally between layers until all the limes are finished.
Tie the square of muslin over the mouth of the jar and leave overnight in a cool, dry place.
The next day, use a clean wooden spoon to press down on the limes to release their juices. Cover again with muslin and set aside.
Press down on the limes once a day in the same way for at least a week, always making sure to use a clean spoon and to cover the jar after you’re done.
After a week, if the liquid released by the limes hasn’t covered the fruit, squeeze more limes to produce enough juice to cover all the fruit.
Let the fruit stand for at least another two to three weeks, until the rind of the fruit loses its toughness and becomes tender enough to pierce with the side of a spoon.
Once the limes are ready, cover the jar with its lid and store in the refrigerator, where the limes will last indefinitely, so long as they remain covered with the pickling liquid.
When adding the limes to dishes, remember that they are heavily salted, so use them judiciously—a little goes a long way. If you do want to use more but are afraid of oversalting your dish, soak the limes you plan to use in cool water for an hour or so before using.
Use in a dish of Chicken in Preserved Lime, Herb, and Tomato Sauce, or in whatever else strikes your fancy.