I first tasted makrut lime leaves in Bombay when I went to my friend Praphat’s home for dinner. Praphat’s mother, Sriwan, who is from Thailand, cooked us an elaborate meal made with fresh herbs and spices and the leaves of a makrut lime tree, which grew in her backyard. She would pluck the fresh leaves off her tree and toss them into hot oil, which she used to start a soup. Taking a page out of Sriwan’s book, I add makrut leaves to ghee, after infusing it with turmeric and ginger. Serve with a slice or two of buttered and toasted baguette. You can find makrut lime leaves (formerly known as kaffir) in most Asian markets and in the international aisles of some grocery stores. This broth also works great with clams.
makes 2 servings
You Will Need
Rinse the mussels under cold running water, scrubbing well to remove any grit. Keep on ice in the refrigerator while building the broth.
In a heavy medium stockpot, heat the ghee over medium-high heat. Sauté the shallots until translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garam masala and turmeric root and cook for 1 more minute. Add the lime leaves and Kashmiri chile and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. Stir in the tomato paste and ginger and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in the salt and the coconut milk, and then gently stir in the mussels. Cover the stockpot and cook until the mussels open, 12 to 15 minutes. Discard any unopened mussels. Stir in the lime juice and taste and add more salt, if necessary. Garnish the broth with the scallions and serve immediately.
the approach In this broth, the fresh turmeric root adds a beautiful golden colour while the fresh ginger adds spiciness and texture. Both of them possess starch, which helps thicken the broth as it is heated. To maximize the impact of the aromatic ingredients, I heat them in a flavourful fat, such as ghee or the Ethiopian spiced butter nit’r qibe. The coconut milk and mussels absorb these flavours as they cook. The addition of lime leaves and juice brightens the broth and counterbalances the heat.
Note 1: Ghee
makes approximately 1¼ cups [250 g]
Ghee is one of the most popular fats used in Indian cooking. It is a form of clarified butter, from which the milk solids and water are removed. Because the milk solids and sugars are caramelized in the fat before their removal, they give the ghee a nutty fragrance. Ghee can last for months if stored correctly, because the water, sugar, and proteins are all removed.
1 lb [455 g] unsalted butter, cubed
Line a strainer with a few layers of cheesecloth and place over a clean, dry 1 pt [480 ml] jar with a tight-fitting lid to hold the finished ghee. Set aside. In a heavy, medium saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter, stirring occasionally with a large metal spoon. As the butter starts to melt, skim off and discard any foam that rises to the surface. Cook until all the water in the butter boils off, and the fat stops sizzling and turns a deep golden yellow. The milk solids at the bottom of the saucepan will be reddish brown. The entire process should take 12 to 15 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and carefully pour the liquid through the cheesecloth-lined strainer into the jar. Seal the jar and store the ghee in a cool, dark place for up to 3 months, or indefinitely in the refrigerator. To cook the naan, heat a large skillet with a lid over medium-high heat. Slap a circle of dough into the hot skillet and cover the pan to trap the steam. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, flip the dough, and turn the heat to low. Cook, covered, until the naan blisters, with a few big bubbles, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the pan and wrap in a clean kitchen towel. Repeat with the remaining three circles of dough.
Note 2: My Nit’r Qibe
makes 2 cups [1 20 g]
Nit’r qibe is a very tasty fat that forms the basis of many Ethiopian recipes. It’s quite similar to ghee, but it contains milk solids, and it is seasoned with spices. You can cook with it as you would ghee or any other fat. I’ve been known to dip pieces of bread into a warmed jar of nit’r qibe, to which I’ve added a little salt.
1 cup [220 g] unsalted butter, cubed
¼ cup [35 g] finely chopped red onion
1 tsp finely chopped garlic
One 1 in [2.5 cm] piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 black cardamom pod, crushed
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp nigella seeds
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground turmeric
Line a fine-mesh strainer with a few layers of cheesecloth and place over a clean, dry 1 pt [480 ml] jar with a tight-fitting lid to hold the finished nit’r qibe. In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Add the onion, garlic, and ginger and cook, skimming off and discarding any foam that rises to the surface, until the butter is completely clear, about 30 minutes. Carefully pour through the cheesecloth-lined strainer into the jar. Stir the cracked cardamom pod, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, nigella seeds, oregano, and turmeric into the hot fat and seal. Store the nit’r qibe in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.