The Versatile Kaffir Lime

Although not certified organic, Olana Farm grows produce using strictly organic methods.

What’s growing now: Arugula, avocado, basil (Thai, Italian, lemon), bok choy, beets, carrots, celery, chard (Swiss, rainbow), chives, cilantro, collards, fennel, green onions, ginger, guava, kale (curly, lacinato, red Russian, red curly), kaffir (leaves, fruit), mint, mustard greens (red, green), pak choi, papaya (green sunrise), pak choi (baby green, baby purple), parsley (Italian, curly), passionfruit, pea shoots, pineapple (white), rosemary, tangelo, thyme, tomatoes (cherry red, yellow pear), turmeric, turnips (white, red).


Kaffir/kieffer/kuffre lime (Citrus hystrix) is technically not a lime. It is a popular ingredient in Asian cooking, particularly in Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. The fruit is small and round, with a thick, bumpy, and tough rind that makes excellent zest. The pale green flesh has some seeds and the juice is sour. Long, slender, notched leaves are fragrant and commonly used like bay leaves.

Season: Here on Kaua`i, kaffir lime leaves are available year round. It takes about five months from flower to fruit, and Olana Farm harvests in summer and again in late winter.

What to look for: Choose limes that are about 2 inches in diameter; those the size of golf balls are not ripe. Kaffir limes are light for their weight and light green when mature.

Storage: Limes will last several weeks in the refrigerator.

If refrigerated, leaves will last up to a month, and can be frozen for up to 12 months. To freeze, wash and dry the leaves and place in a freezer bag or airtight container.

Tip: “Some people like the young leaves better,” says Tim O’Connor, “but I find that mature leaves, which are a little more glossy, have a deeper, more developed flavor. They really blast with fragrance.”

Preparation: Zest is used in sweet dairy dishes, such as crème brûlée and ice cream. The juice works well in cocktails. Leaves added to braising liquid or coconut milk lend a delicate, floral flavor. Add them to poaching liquid or to make an aromatic tea. With a sharp paring knife, make a lengthwise slit in a lime leaf along the vein, without cutting through either end. Carefully slip a scallop into the slit and cook.

I like to finely mince the leaves and sprinkle themover salads, sandwiches or anything when I want to add a fresh boost. Frozen leaves will discolor and won’t be ideal for garnishing, but you can still use them in curries, stir-fries and sugar syrups to impart citrus flavor.

Olana Farm produce can be found at:

Farmers Market: Kilauea Neighborhood Center (Thursday at 4:30 p.m.), Namahana Farmers Market by Banana Joe’s (Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.). Call 346-5936, or email


My husband Dan and I had our first taste of laab (the national dish of Laos) at Mema Thai Chinese Cuisine in Kapaa. We quickly became addicted to the spicy, extremely flavorful pork salad and order it every time we go. At Mema, they serve it with cabbage wedges, but I’ve changed it to pliable, crisp lettuce. Either way, scoop the salad onto the leaves, and pop it into your mouth! Serves four.

1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, divided
3 tablespoons, Asian fish sauce, divided
2 garlic cloves, minced and divided
2 Hawaiian chili peppers, minced
1 tablespoon oil
1 pound ground pork, beef, poultry, fish or mushrooms
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced
3 tablespoons shallots, minced
2 tablespoons scallions, minced
3 kaffir lime leaves, sliced into thin strips
1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce
1/4 cup cilantro, minced
1/8 cup mint, minced lettuce head, quartered
1/2 cup dry-roasted peanuts

Mix brown sugar through Hawaiian chili peppers in a small bowl and set the dressing aside.

Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add meat or mushrooms, ginger, one garlic clove, and cook, mashing meat into small pieces.

When the meat is no longer pink, add 1 tablespoon of fish sauce and two tablespoons of lime juice. Cook one minute and add salt to taste.

Transfer meat mixture to a medium bowl and add shallots, scallions, kaffir lime leaves, cilantro and mint.

Add two tablespoons of dressing and toss.

Serve with lettuce leaves.

Marta Lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. For more information, visit