What’s the one thing Martha Stewart missed the most when she was in prison? Meyer lemons. Yea, right.
Jackie and I gave each other extremely exaggerated eye rolls when we heard that on the news a few years ago. Then when we actually tasted those lemons, we took it all back. Jackie loaded up once a year at Costco when they were in season. We’re pretty sure that here in Ecuador, Meyer lemons would appear only in Jackie’s wet dreams. As a matter of fact, lemons are pretty rare here. Instead of lemons, we see limes. Many, many limes. Tons of limes everywhere. We even see lime vendors at every other traffic light, hawking bags of lime. So, what do you do with limes anyway?
In the United States, lemons are plentiful and inexpensive, and limes cost a bit more and aren’t as versatile as lemons. There, lime wedges are used as a garnish in alcoholic drinks, or in baking some specialty items. There, lemons are used for everything else, from lemonade to lemon zest additives in scones.
It’s the opposite here, where even the Spanish name for lime is limon, and they are looked upon as essentially interchangeable with lemons.
Perhaps it’s just me, but are the limes down here a bit less tart than up north? We’ve successfully used limes as substitutes for several recipes requiring lemons but those recipes never use up enough limes. So, in an effort to come up with ways to use local ingredients, we conjured up a tasty spritzer using limes, cilantro (another item difficult to use up before turning into compost), sweetener and soda. It ended up pretty darn good, he said modestly. And, rumor has it, it makes are good mixer for a mojito-ish vodka cocktail. But enough of that kind of talk . . .
To make the basic spritzer, you need two limes, three or more sprigs of cilantro, a sweetener (we used eight drops of Stevia), some carbonated water (we used Guitig) and ice.
Making the limeade couldn’t be easier. First, muddle the cilantro in the bottom of a tall glass. We don’t have a regular muddler (we are poor, deprived, muddled immigrants), but just used the handle end of a wooden spoon. Whatever works, just to squash the cilantro down to release the flavor.
We have also made this using hierbabuena, found in small plastic containers at Supermaxi along with fresh mint, basil and other herbs, but cilantro gives a stronger flavor that we really enjoy. Plus, it’s really inexpensive.
Then pull out your handy lime squasher and squeeze the juice out of two fresh limes into the glass. You could use the bottled lime juice sold everywhere, which would be perhaps a tiny bit more convenient, but fresh lime juice is infinitely tastier. The lime juice in a bottle might be good enough to add a bit a zest to baked goods, but remember that the juice in the spritzer will be one of only two ingredients that add flavor. There is a dramatic difference between bottled and fresh.
Add eight to ten drops of liquid stevia. You could use simple syrup or sugar, but stevia is convenient and inexpensive. A little squeeze bottle lasts forever in the fridge.
Fill the glass with ice, and top off with soda water. Stir with a spoon and suck it up. It really is an inexpensive, tasty and refreshing drink. For those seeking a more adult beverage, add two ounces of vodka.
There are many other ways of using up limes. At a little café, we enjoyed a cold glass of water packed with lime slices and muddled mint leaves. Adrian, the neighborhood ceviche guy, has a huge bowl of limes ready to squash into your morning meal. How about lime juice in your tea? How about hot water with lime and honey? You can even clean your coffee maker with these things. Just squeeze the juice of three limes into the reservoir of your coffee maker. Add water and let sit for half an hour. Run the coffee maker without using a filter. Wait half an hour again and run once more with plain water. Done.
Jackie will always salivate at the thought of Meyer lemons. But, when thinking about our new lives here in Cuenca, sipping our Lime and Cilantro Spritzer while enjoying our new home and new friends, we can live quite happily without those Martha Stewart luxuries. Cheers!