Noomi Basra in the Market

Noomi Basra in the Market

In my recipe for Iraqi Soup Kubbe there is a fairly exotic ingredient called Noomi Basra. This is what my mother called it, which roughly translates from Arabic to a Basra Lemon. This is the name used to describe this item in Iraq (Basra is a town in Iraq) where she is from. These are also sometimes called Black Lemons, or Omani Lemons in Iran (from Oman), or Loomi in many Arab countries in the region. In Israel they’re called Persian Lemons. The strange thing is that they’re not lemons at all, but limes, that are boiled in salt water and then left out to dry in the sun. As such the primary name for this item in English-speaking countries is Black Lime. These ‘black’ limes actually come in at least two versions, one that is brown on the outside (like in the pictures on this page) and one that is actually black on the outside. Both are black inside. I can’t tell you what the real difference between the two is, but I would imagine either would work. Presumably the black-outside variety is somewhat stronger, but I don’t know if its necessary. I’ve seen some mentions onlien that the black ones can be too bitter, and also that they sometimes can be moldy. If someone knows the difference between these two types, please share in the comments. I stick to the brown ones, which are easy to get here.

Noomi Basra on Cutting Board

Noomi Basra on Cutting Board

Noomi Basra, or Black Limes, are obviously very citrusy, but their flavor is more complex than that. It is a kind of fermented tartness that is hard to describe. It adds a complexity of flavor to dishes you want to be tart, and is hard to replace as an ingredient.

Noomi Basra Cracked Open

Noomi Basra Cracked Open

To cook with a Noomi Basra, you can either pierce it with a fork or skewer and drop it in a soup or stew that is cooking, or you can crush it and add all the pieces. If you crush it you should remove the seeds, which are bitter. Once you remove the seeds you can also grind it up, but I find this unnecessary. You can also use Noomi Basra in rice recipes, but in this case probably you should keep it whole (pierced) unless you can grind it sufficiently. I usually just take a hammer to it and throw it in the soup…

Crushed Noomi Basra

Crushed Noomi Basra

So where do you get a Noomi Basra? Well, here in Israel any spice store carries them (and there are a lot of spice stores here). As mentioned, it’s called a Persian Lemon here, or Limon Parsi (לימון פרסי). So just ask for that. Needless to say if you are in any of the surrounding Arab countries, or in Turkey or Iran, this should also be easy to find. If you’re in the US or elsewhere I would check with specialty spice stores or Middle Eastern food markets. I did manage to find one place in the US that sells these online, called Spice Station, which sells them for $2.75 each. That’s a bit more than they cost here, but then I guess it’s a bit more exotic in the US than here.

So what do you think? Have a soup or stew you think you want to use this in? Does this description make you more likely to try it in your own or in my Soup Kubbe recipe? If you want some more ideas for Noomi Basra, see this post on Food.com…

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