It’s sour tea, distinctively sour, but in a good way. A unique aromatic and pungent flavour that only a dried lime can produce. Known in Iraq as Noomi or Noomi Basra, dried limes are also used whole or ground in Iran and the gulf region for many savoury dishes. In Iraq it is also used as a warming tea or turned into a summary cordial (will post once weather is warmer), culturally believed to cure indigestion and sooth the stomach.
With Middle Eastern food now trending in Europe and North America, I believe dried limes should be accessible in most large supermarkets, and if not, should be available in specialist Asian shops. While I was temporarily volunteering at a health centre in Southern Iraq, a team of charitable Italian specialists had been to fix cleft lips and palates for 100s of Iraqi children. They all loved the dried lime concoctions and each went back with a bagful in their suitcase. (A friendly warning: previous experience has taught me to wrap the dried limes in multiple layers of bags and whatnot, as the smell lingering in your clothes and suitcase can be a bit, well, too strong!)
Dried limes come in two kinds, ones light and ones almost black in colour. If you’d ask any Iraqi which one they prefer, all without exception would point you to the dark variety, saying the lighter ones are bitter. Regardless of whichever variety you use, when grounding or crushing dried limes, the seeds must be removed, as they are be very bitter.
Below are the instruction for a classic Iraqi tea known as ‘Chai noomi’, with my addition of ginger to sooth the throat and give extra heat. A lot(!) of sugar is traditionally added to sweeten the tea, I add honey as a healthier alternative. A touch of turmeric is also a great addition. Black tea can be also added or just use the ingredients below for caffeine free version.
Dried Lime and Ginger Tea – Makes a small teapot – 2 cups
- 1 dried lime, crushed and seeds removed
- 1/2 thumb size fresh ginger (about 5cm), peeled and cut into small cubes
- 2 cups water
- 1-2 teaspoons honey, or other sweetener of your choice
Place dried lime, ginger and water in the teapot and sit for 15 minutes for the dried lime to infuse. This is optional and you can put all the ingredients straight into the pot. Place teapot on a hob, medium-low heat (use heat diffuser for gas). Carry on doing a job that needs doing and wait until the tea comes to a gentle simmer. This could take 10-20 minutes. Turn off the heat, pour into cups and add honey or your sweetener of choice.
I know it’s an acquired taste, but once you get used to it, it is addictive, I promise you!