Lime’s fresh, tangy flavor adds a punch to beverages and culinary dishes that range from appetizers to desserts. Like lemons, this small, sour citrus fruit is high in vitamin C — the reason that in the 1800s, the British navy began provisioning ships with grog: lime juice preserved with 15 percent rum, with water added. A closely guarded military secret, the concoction was used to prevent scurvy among sailors during long stints at sea. (An unintended consequence was that the sailors were soon dubbed “limeys.”)
In the United States, the two most used types of limes are the Tahitian or Persian lime (the more common type, the one typically stocked by grocery stores) and the Key lime or Mexican lime. Neither type originated where the name might suggest.
Wild limes are thought to have originated in the Indonesian archipelago. The current thinking is that approximately 3,000 years ago, because of trade and migration, limes began to be introduced to other parts of the world. By the mid-thirteenth century, returning Crusaders brought them home with them to Mediterranean Europe, where lime trees were soon cultivated. On a voyage to the West Indies in 1493, Columbus brought citrus seeds with him that likely included lime seeds. Limes appeared in the Americas in the early 1500s, where they became naturalized. By the late 1800s, limes were commercially grown on a small scale in southern Florida. (The Key lime takes its name from the Florida Keys.)
Lemons, a hybrid, later developed from limes. Unlike lemons, though, most of the diminutive, fragrant limes sold in supermarkets are seedless, undoubtedly a source of delight to bartenders, chefs and cooks everywhere. The thicker skin of the less tart Tahitian/Persian lime makes them easier to ship and store, and they are what most Americans think of when they hear the word “limes.”
Santa Fe bartenders, chefs and home cooks agree that lime is an important accent flavor in Southwestern cocktails and cuisine. Below is a sampling of how several popular Santa Fe eateries enhance some of their dishes with a shot of lime.
Paloma, which offers modern Mexican cuisine, excels in the creative use of limes. Their popular Paloma cocktail combines smooth, top-shelf Cimarron Blanco tequila with grapefruit juice, lime juice and Squirt soda to create a highly refreshing drink. The Diablo, made from Rayu Mezcal with lime, cassis and ginger, is another cocktail that does not disappoint. La Mariposa, which mingles Rau Mezcal, Aperol (an Italian apéritif), elderflower, lime and Cava, is also a treat.
Lime also adds flair to Paloma’s tasty guacamole and their Baja sea bass ceviche. Their Tuna Tostaditos is raw yellowfin tuna elevated with lime, avocado and habañero mayo. The esquites, or Mexican corn salad, is a shared plate that brings together grilled sweet corn, garlic, lime mayo, Cotija cheese and chile de arbol. Sweet, spicy and tangy, esquites are the off-the-cob version of elotes.
At Coyote Café try the Mexican Chop salad, which features Southwestern ingredients with a honey-lime vinaigrette. At the bar, snack on elotes: grilled corn with Cotija cheese, lime and chile. If you are a lime lover and dessert is your favorite part of the meal, try Coyote’s popular Key lime tart.
Sit at a bar with a bowl of mussels and a plate of French fries, and suddenly, all is right in the world. La Boca offers Mejillones, a treat to be savored: West Coast black mussels in salsa verde with cilantro, garlic, spinach, lime and jalapeno.
La Casa Sena is housed in a historic hacienda that has a stunning patio. The restaurant features Mediterranean cuisine, but there’s nothing better than relaxing in that courtyard with the wisteria in full bloom while sampling the crêpes. Listed on the small plate menu, these morsels of goodness contain caviar, crème fraîche and truffle lime curd. From the drink menu, try the Sena-Rita, which combines Espolon Blanco, Cointreau, lime and hibiscus.
Also home to a relaxing outdoor dining area, especially from May until September, The Teahouse on Canyon Road dishes up some of best Key lime pie in town. It’s made, of course, with real lime juice. It has a gluten-free graham cracker crust and is topped with a dollop of whipped cream.
A relative newcomer to town, Thai on Canyon is a pleasant spot next door to El Farol on Canyon Road. A favorite lime-kissed entrée is the Tod Mun Pla (Thai Fish Cake), a mixture of fresh fish paste and green beans, red curry paste and kaffir lime leaves that’s shaped into cakes that are fried until golden brown. Each order of six cakes is served with fresh cucumber in sweet chili aioli. The Papaya Salad features green papaya, cherry tomatoes, green beans, roasted unsalted peanuts covered with a hot chili-lime dressing, and topped with grilled shrimp.
At Geronimo, Hawaiian Ahi Tuna Shashimi and Tartare makes a perfect first course. To enhance the tuna, this inspired dish adds buttermilk-scallion pancakes, wasabi aioli, avocado, caviar and soy-lime syrup. Yes, you read that correctly: Soy-lime syrup. On a pancake. With caviar. And tuna sashimi.
Well, you can’t make ceviche without limes; the tangy juice serves as the curing agent for the otherwise raw seafood. At El Callejón Santa Fe, a taqueria and grill, the ceviche is made with fresh citrus-cured fish and pico de gallo, served on two crisped blue corn tortillas, with a touch of chipotle mayo. It’s plated with romaine, tortilla chips and avocado. Enjoy a tasty lime margarita with it.
Images: Banner and Featured Artwork, Limes, Lauren E. Johnson
Joshua Rose is currently a Senior Vice President at the Santa Fe Art Auction, responsible for Native Art and Fine Art. Previously, he spent the last 15 years as the editor of American Art Collector, Western Art Collector, Native American Art Magazine and American Fine Art Magazine. He currently resides in Santa Fe and Phoenix, Arizona.