Discovering Lime Leaves and Sweet Thai Chilli Paste

Last week I had yet another hospital appointment for yet another CT Scan. As the hospital I attend is on the opposite side of the city from where I live, I decided to take the opportunity to explore a new foraging area. I had picked up a tip from Twitter courtesy of @loafonline and @abundancebrum that the place to go was an area of sports ground that edged onto the North Stratford Canal. A twofer: canals and foraging, hurrah!

I set off clutching my basket, not really expecting to find much as most of what had been mentioned was not likely to be in season. However, I feel that carrying my basket sort of gives me permission to walk about on my own. A bit like owning a dog. People look at you oddly if you walk around entirely without obvious purpose. But with a basket, I suddenly appear to look like I know what I am doing. Either that, or they think I am certifiable and are too terrified to meet my gaze in case I remove the kitchen scissors from the aforementioned basket and plunge them into their necks in a psychotic frenzy.  One can never tell.

Anyway. My tip turned out to be an excellent one and I shall definitely return in a few weeks. I spotted apples, damsons, blackberries, hazelnuts, elder and bird cherries all unripe. However, I did not leave empty-handed. Much to my delight, I found lime trees:

I had been flipping through Ghillie James’ Jams, Jellies & Relishes only the previous evening and spotted a relish I fancied making but it contained lime leaves. I do not know of any lime trees locally so finding them really was a joy. The recipe also contained lots of chillies so I could make good use of my chilli plant. In fact, I had to send out for reinforcements. The end results did not look particularly pleasant but pretty jars and packaging help a lot:

I first made use of it as a glaze for chicken drumsticks – extremely yummy!  And given both the number of chillies and amount of garlic, not overly spicy at all.  With some salad, rice and tomatoes it made the perfect Sunday tea.

Sweet Thai Chilli Paste

2 garlic bulbs, separated into bulbs and peeled

12 long red chillies, halved and de-seeded

3 x 8cm pieces of fresh ginger, peeled and grated

1 large bunch of fresh coriander, stalks and leaves

4 lemongrass stems, trimmed and finely chopped

9 fresh lime leaves

400g Demerara sugar

6 tbsp rice wine vinegar

4 tbsp soy sauce

4 tbsp fish sauce

juice of 2 limes

Put garlic, chillies, ginger, coriander, lemongrass and lime leaves into a food processor and whizz until you have a fine paste.

Put the sugar and 250ml water into a large, deep frying pan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Raise heat and boil for about 5 mins, or until the syrup has the consistency of clear honey (this took 10-15mins for me). Carefully add the paste to the pan and stir-fry for a further 5-7mins, or until the liquid has evaporated. Add the remaining ingredients plus 500mls of water and boil, stirring, for approximately 15-20mins, or until you have a thick but pourable paste. Spoon into warm sterilised jars and seal.

Use as a marinade, a curry base, a dipping sauce, a glaze or a stir-fry paste. To add extra oomph, leave in half the chilli seeds.