Diner's dictionary Defining unfamiliar menu terms

McCrady's American red snapper with a split kaffir lime (on far left).

Kaffir lime (kaf-feer lim)

A native of Southeast Asia, the kaffir lime is a shiny, bumpy-skinned, ping-pong ball-sized citrus fruit. Although the lime is relatively dry, its fragrant skin and aromatic leaves contribute to the distinctive tang of Thai cooking.

Lately, controversy has erupted over the word "kaffir." According to a recent story in The Vancouver Sun about grassroots efforts to do away with the term, "the k-word is akin to the n-word in South Africa and some other African countries." Although the Arabic word first meant non-Muslim - University of California researcher David Karp believes Indian Muslims assigned the name "kaffir" to the fruits to indicate they originated in Thailand or Sri Lanka - it ultimately acquired derogatory connotations.

"Hate speech doesn't belong in the produce department," a spokeswoman for Seattle's PCC Natural Markets grocery chain last month told the Seattle Times, explaining why the ingredient is now listed as lime leaves in online recipes and on display signs.

Fortunately, kaffir limes go by many names: The fruit is also known as jeruk purut, leech lime, magrood and makrut.

McCrady's (Snapper, summer squash, baby leek, kaffir lime and tarragon, listed on $65 four-course tasting menu.)

In traditional Thai fashion, Basil uses kaffir lime leaves to flavors its hot and sour soup. The citrus fruit has also popped up at Circa 1886, where this spring it joined with rum in a gastrique applied to duck breast, and at Kiawah's Cherrywood BBQ & Ale House, which sauces its fried shrimp cakes with a blueberry and kaffir lime barbecue sauce.

Harris Teeter occasionally stocks jarred kaffir lime leaves, but the fresh fruit can be difficult to source if you don't have a kaffir lime tree in your backyard. Dwarf trees sell for about $40 online.