- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Key limes, now available from Mexico, are the perfect summer seasoning. In the steamy heat of Mexico, ask for “una limon” if you want a lemon and “una lima” if you need a lime.

“Una limonada” will get you a lemonade. But for limeade, it’s hard to say, well, literally, “una bebida a base de jugo de lima” or “agua fresca de limon verde.”

All I can say is that walking into the cool sanctuary of Magdalena’s Bed and Breakfast in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, after a sunny three-block walk from the town center, and eyeing a tall drippy pitcher of the barely green iced drink, I knew I was about to douse my dehydrated disposition.

Eva Garcia Jimenez is the friendly bilingual proprietress of Magdalena’s who will not only offer you the refreshing drink along with a comfortable bed, but an authentic Mexican breakfast and even a lesson on how to cook it, if you ask.

On a recent afternoon, Miss Garcia shared her recipe for bebida a base de jugo de lima (from here on known as “limeade”). She also used the tiny lime in several other recipes, including a rice soup and a rich but refreshing dessert that was hard to stop eating even after a second helping.

“Go into any Mexican kitchen, and you are likely to find a big bowl of limas,” she said. “They are not only a common ingredient in everyday Mexican cooking. They show up on almost every plate of food, both as garnish and squeezable condiment. Here they are used in many nonculinary ways too.”

A squeeze of lime juice may not be as strong as disinfectant for a cutting board, but in Mexico it is a common and tastier alternative to bleach. Dab a bit of lime juice on an itchy insect bite for some quick relief, if you’re out of calamine lotion. Upset stomach? Suck on a lime.

Some sources list lime juice as a diuretic, a digestive stimulant, a remedy for intestinal hemorrhage and hemorrhoids, heart palpitations, headache, convulsive cough, rheumatism, arthritis, falling hair and bad breath.

The juice has also been used in processing leather and as a skin conditioner. Powdered dried peel can be made into a metal polish or cattle feed. Lime oil, from the peel, has been used as an ingredient in the perfume industry.

Florida has been producing Key limes and transforming them into pie for longer than anyone who is reading this can remember.

It has only been in the past decade, however, that the fruit has shown up from Mexico in the produce departments of markets in the United States, especially in areas with large Hispanic populations.

It is generally marketed alongside the larger, greener and seedless Persian limes that Americans squeeze into their margaritas and mojitos, but the Key lime provides a greater flavor punch than does the Persian version.

Key limes have two seasons — one in spring and early summer and the other in late fall and early winter. But to my way of thinking, limes are perfect for summer. They go so well in heat-quenching foods.

The Key lime ripens to full yellow and loses weight rapidly at normal room temperature in warm climates. Go for brightly colored firm fruit that feels heavy for the size.

The ideal stage of ripeness is when the color has changed from dark to light green, the surface is smooth and the fruit feels slightly soft to the touch. Avoid fruit that looks shriveled or has blemishes and fruit that feels overly soft.

Whole limes will keep for up to 10 days in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, although they may last much longer. One way to store them is underwater in a closed jar.

You can easily squeeze the juice from a halved or quartered Key lime with your fingers, but you will get the seeds, too. Try using an inexpensive, hand-held, die-cast aluminum squeezer from Mexico that, in one step, literally turns lime halves inside out, extracting all the juice while straining out the pulp and the seeds.

You can freeze the juice or even the whole fruit, but once a whole Key lime has thawed, it will be most suitable for dishes where it is chopped or pureed. Bear in mind that you will probably only use small quantities of lime juice in most recipes, so it’s a good idea to freeze the juice is usable amounts. Divided ice trays are useful for this purpose.

Then do as they do in Mexico. Use the juice to marinate steak, fish, poultry. Try squeezing it over a taco, a burrito or barbecued and buttered corn on the cob, along with a sprinkling of chili powder.

Poke a Key lime quarter into the long neck of a Cerveza beer or drop a half into a glass of water. Use it to spike up salsas, salad dressings and marinades. Make ceviche, mojitos, margaritas or one of Eva Garcia’s recipes that follow.

For more information on Magdalena’s Bed and Breakfast, go to www.magdalenassanmigueldeallende.com.

Limeade

Water

1 cup sugar, or to taste

Finely grated peel from 5 Mexican limes

1 cup freshly squeezed Key lime juice, about 20 limes

Ice

Lime quarters for garnish

Pour 2 quarts water and sugar to taste into 1-gallon glass jug or pitcher. Stir to dissolve sugar. Add lime peel and stir. Add lime juice and ice cubes. Stir. Serve in tall glasses, garnished with skewered lime quarters. Makes about 12 servings.

Sopa de arroz (Rice soup)

½ cup chopped onion

2 large tomatoes, quartered

2 cups chicken broth or water

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup long-grain rice

2 eggs, beaten

1/4 cup Key lime juice

Salt

In a blender, combine onion, tomatoes and 1 cup broth or water. Process until well blended. Set aside. Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add rice and cook, stirring often, until rice is beginning to turn golden.

Stir in onion-tomato mixture. Add remaining 1 cup broth or water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer 20 minutes. Whisk eggs into soup, then stir in lime juice. Season to taste with salt. Serve hot.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Eva’s postre de fruta encremada (Eve’s fruit dessert)

1 3-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature

½ cup heavy whipping cream

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 cup honey

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup chopped fresh pineapple

1 cup chopped apple

1 banana, sliced

Grated peel and juice of 1 Key lime

In large bowl, beat cream cheese with cream, vanilla, honey and cinnamon until smooth. Fold in pineapple and apple.

Transfer to serving dishes and top with banana slices. Sprinkle with lime peel and juice.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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