Lemons and limes are a great way to add a powerful, zesty punch to a dish. These recipes turn up the heat, too 

Marinated chicken with charred limes, saffron butter and soft flatbreads

Sally Butcher and her husband Jamshid kindly talked me through this recipe, which is a Middle Eastern classic. Poussins are skinned, cut up and left to sit in a bath of lime juice for 24 hours, before they are grilled or barbecued, basted all the while with saffron butter. Persians normally use a concentrated bottled juice for this which is seriously sherbety and a bit of an acquired taste. Use this or a regular bottled sort – or if you can find a use for zest (there are plenty of ideas dotted around this book!) use around 12-15 large limes.

Serves 4

1 chicken (or 2 poussins), each cut into 10 pieces, skin on
A large pinch of saffron strands
1 tbsp boiling water
​100g/scant ½ cup butter
1 garlic clove, crushed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the marinade

A large pinch of saffron strands
1 tbsp boiling water
​250ml/generous 1 cup lime juice (or sour orange or lemon juice)
1 onion, coarsely grated

For the cucumber and yogurt sauce

200ml/generous ¾ cup plain yogurt
A handful of mint leaves, finely chopped
½ cucumber, peeled, halved lengthways,deseeded, grated and drained
A pinch of sugar

To serve

4 limes, halved
Soft flatbreads 
Flatleaf parsley, chopped
Lime-pickled red onions

Put the chicken in a fridge-friendly receptacle. Season generously with salt and pepper. Using a pestle and mortar, grind the saffron for the marinade with a pinch of salt and mix with the boiling water. Add to the citrus juice and pour the lot over the chicken or poussins, along with the onion. Refrigerate and marinate overnight.

The next day, either get your barbecue ready or heat your oven to its highest temperature. Grind and soak the saffron in the boiling water, as before, and put it in a saucepan with the butter and garlic. Melt together. Drain and pat dry the chicken pieces, then either arrange over your barbecue or on a baking tray. Baste with the butter and cook for 10 minutes. Baste again, cook for a further 10 minutes, then repeat. By this time the chicken should be cooked through and nicely browned and blistered. Reheat any remaining butter.

Put the limes on the barbecue or on a griddle pan for a couple of minutes. Mix the yogurt with the mint and grated cucumber, and season with salt and a pinch of sugar. To serve, warm through the flatbreads. Serve the chicken torn from the bone and piled into flatbreads with the yogurt, any leftover basting butter, parsley, pickled onions and squeezes of the charred limes.


Lime and chicken tortilla soup

Lime and chicken tortilla soup

This has quite a lot of elements to it and ends up being a bit of an assembly job towards the end. It’s not a true tortilla soup (I don’t like soggy tortillas, much better to have them as a crisp garnish), more of a cross between that and sopa de lima. You can play around with the garnishes as much as you want. Crumbled feta – which is really a salty version of the Latin American queso fresco – would work instead of a hard cheese, as would a traditional guacamole in place of the avocado.

Serves 4

For the chicken and marinade

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, butterflied
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime
1 tsp each of chipotle chilli powder, garlic powder and dried oregano
½ tsp smoked salt
1 tbsp olive oil

For the soup

2 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, finely diced
2 red peppers, finely diced
​2 celery sticks, finely diced
500g/1lb 2oz very ripe tomatoes
1 head of garlic, broken into cloves, unpeeled
1 chipotle chilli, whole but deseeded
3 tbsp finely chopped coriander stems (reserve leaves for garnish)
A large sprig of thyme
​1 litre/generous 4 cups chicken stock
​200g/generous 1 cup cooked black beans (optional)

For the garnishes

1 avocado
Juice of 1 lime
2-3 tbsp olive oil
2-3 corn tortillas, cut into triangles
​100ml/7 tbsp soured cream
A few coriander (cilantro) leaves
Grated hard cheese, such as Manchego, ​Gruyère or Cheddar (or see above)

Put the chicken breasts in a bowl. Mix together the marinade ingredients and pour this over the chicken. Leave to marinate for 1 hour. Heat a griddle pan until it is too hot to hold your hand over. Griddle the chicken for 3-4 minutes on each side until just cooked through. Set aside.

Heat the oil for the soup in a large flameproof casserole or saucepan. Add the onion, red peppers and celery. Sauté on a low heat until translucent and starting to caramelise lightly. This will take at least 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the tomatoes, garlic cloves and chilli in a heavy-based frying pan and dry roast for a similar amount of time until the tomatoes are blackening. If the chilli and garlic look done before the tomatoes, fish them out and put to one side. Peel the garlic cloves and put in a food processor with the unpeeled tomatoes and chilli. Blitz until smooth.

Add the coriander stems and thyme sprig to the onion pan and cook for a couple of minutes. Pour in the tomato mixture and simmer for 5 minutes until starting to reduce. Add the chicken stock and continue to simmer for 15-20 minutes.

For the garnishes, dice the avocado and toss in the lime juice. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the tortilla triangles until crisp and golden brown. Shred the chicken and add it to the soup along with the black beans, if using. Remove the thyme sprig and serve the soup garnished with the tortillas, avocado, soured cream, coriander leaves and cheese.


Dal with lemon or lime curry

Dal with lemon or lime curry

I love this combination, not least because compartmentalising flavours as I’ve done here can be very useful when feeding a family – children not yet able to handle the hot and sour flavours of the lemon curry will be happy with the sweet and mild spices of the dal. Giving the option of using lemons or limes for the curry pays lip service to the fact that very few people outside the US and the UK distinguish between them. Regardless, the results will be sour and you can make it as hot as you like. Serve with basmati rice or with some paratha, with perhaps some lightly steamed greens on the side.

Serves 4

For the dal

1 tbsp coconut oil
1 onion, finely chopped
​200g/7oz sweet potato or squash, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2cm/¾in piece fresh root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 tbsp finely chopped coriander stems (reserve the leaves for serving)
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
A pinch of ground cloves
​300g/1½ cups mung beans (moong dal)
1 x 400ml tin/1¾ cups coconut milk
​500ml/generous 2 cups water
Juice of 1 lemon or lime
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the lemon or lime curry

4 lemons or 6 limes
​1 tbsp coconut oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
A few curry leaves
¼ fresh coconut, grated
1 large onion, finely chopped
5cm/2in piece of fresh root ginger, peeled and grated
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
​500ml/generous 2 cups water
1 tbsp jaggery or soft light brown sugar

Heat the coconut oil in a large saucepan or flameproof casserole. Add the onion and sauté for several minutes until starting to soften. Add the sweet potato or squash, garlic and ginger, and cook for a few more minutes. Add the coriander stems and all the spices, then stir in the mung beans. Pour in the coconut milk and water, then bring to the boil. Season generously with salt and pepper. Simmer, covered, until the mung beans are tender, keeping an eye on it as you don’t want it to get too dry. Before serving, add the lemon or lime juice and sprinkle with the reserved coriander leaves.

To make the curry, top and tail and the lemons or limes, then cut (with peel) into 1cm/½in dice. Put the lemons or limes in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain thoroughly. Melt the coconut oil in a saucepan or flameproof casserole. Add the whole spices with the curry leaves and fry until the mustard seeds start popping. Add the grated coconut and fry for a few minutes until it is looking lightly toasted, then add the onion, ginger and garlic. Continue to cook for a few minutes, then add the turmeric and chilli powder. Add the lemons or limes along with the water and the jaggery. Simmer until the lemons or limes are tender and the sauce is well reduced – it should retain its light, bright yellow. Add a splash more water if you think it needs it.

CITRUS​: Recipes that celebrate the sour and the sweet by Catherine Phipps (Quadrille, £20) Photography: Mowie Kay