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Danny Wallace explains why the path to culinary prowess is paved with limes

"My life is just limes now"

Danny Wallace explains why the path to culinary prowess is paved with limes
17 May 2018

I have joined one of those schemes where every week a box arrives at your house with food in it and you’re expected to cook it.

It’s sort of like ordering a takeaway, with absolutely none of the convenience. But it will be good for me. I will learn culinary skills every modern man should have. I will craft meals of exquisite taste. I will cut down on processed foods and master unusual, never-before-used utensils bought 10 years ago on a complete whim. “A potato press, you say? Cooking tweezers? Some kind of asparagus spiraliser? Why yes, instead of the cushion I was sent to buy, I left IKEA with all those things!”

The problem is, you’re meant to go online the week before to choose the recipes you’d like to make. Which, of course, is something I consistently fail to remember. Why would I? Who sits there on a Friday and thinks, “What shall I eat next Tuesday?” Not someone you’d be interested in talking to for long, I can tell you.

So I end up receiving mystery boxes chosen for me seemingly at random. It’s like sending a mad person to the shop with your credit card and saying, “Just bring back whatever’s not on the floor.” Now, we’ve all popped into Tesco drunk before, and come home with a Catering-size bottle of ketchup and some Cheerios. But this mad person in particular seems mainly to hang around the lime aisle.

My life is just limes now. I don’t know if they had a particularly warm childhood experience involving limes or they own shares in them. Maybe they secretly want to be a lime, the way some people dress as teddy bears or dogs and then kiss each other. But there’s something going on, because the sheer amount of limes I am sent on a weekly basis makes me think they should rename their business ‘You’ll Need A Lime For This’.

Honestly, it’s limes this, limes that and often limes the other. And I feel this is holding me back. I’m trying to be a self-improver here, a man with more strings to his bow, yet I seem to have set up some kind of adoption agency for citrus fruit.

I don’t know how many limes I’ve eaten in my life up until now, but I can tell you how many limes I’ve eaten recently. Loads. According to these people, lime is the key ingredient in all cooking. Yet it isn’t. Our high streets would be packed with lime-themed takeaways if it were. Garlic is much more key. I once saw a restaurant in LA that was entirely garlic-themed – The Stinking Rose. It was opposite a sports shop called The Merchant Of Tennis. People would pick up a new sweatband, then cross the road to enjoy a towering pile of nothing but garlic that they could later sweat into it.

Is everyone else who’s signed up to this crackpot scheme also getting mainly limes? Have they too started to wonder what they’re doing with their lives? Because I’ll tell you – if ever it is close to 8pm, and you, for some unknown reason, ask yourself: ‘I wonder what Danny Wallace is doing right now?’, let me answer that for you. I am zesting a lime. Not dining with a prince, as you might imagine. Not holding an audience in thrall with a collection of my latest poetry.

No. I’m trying to find the cheese grater so I can zest another lime.

“It’s got another lime in it!” I yell to my wife as I unpack tonight’s box. I don’t even know what I’m supposed to be cooking. I just know I’ll need a lime for this.

I curse myself for having ideas above my station. I’m not a man who should be dealing with such fancy stuff. I shouldn’t be opening huge bags of coriander chopping it roughly. I don’t need to spiralise anything. Just give me things in a straight line and I’ll do the rest.

I don’t know what I’d been expecting when I signed up to this. What did I think would happen? That they’d send me ham, egg and chips along with a handwritten note that just said, “Now cook the ham, egg and chips”?

Maybe that’s what the world is missing. A straightforward, no-nonsense, middle-of-the-road food-delivery service. That’s what Gordon Ramsay’s always on about, isn’t it? “Keep it simple!” he’ll say, slapping the back of his hand, before telling you the steak has to be precisely cooked for 1 minute 47 seconds, then you can add the complicated merlot and peppercorn jus with Polynesian butter that you had to make yourself six weeks before. Oh, and some lime zest, because that’s the cornerstone of British cooking.

So I do something radical.

I decide to make tonight’s dish without zesting a lime. Let’s see just how important it is. I put the lime to one side and start to roughly chop some coriander. “Why does coriander have to be in everything?” I wonder, seething, as it dawns on me that this scheme really may not be for me.

In my head I start to design the logo for ‘Ham, Egg & Chips!’ – the brand-new, one-recipe weekly food-delivery service.

And then I crack open a beer, chop the lime into wedges, and drop one in.

Now we’re cooking.

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(Image: Hoach le Dinh)