Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citrates), a grass that resembles pale, tender bamboo, is used for its lemony aroma. Native to India and Sri Lanka and thriving in the tropical climates of Southeast Asia and Latin America, lemongrass is best known for its use in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine. Lemongrass has a more subtle, delicate flavour than lemon or lime and imparts its flavour very quickly, especially when added to a marinade or simmered in a clear broth.
Lemongrass is sold as long, woody stalks with white root ends; it’s formed of layers that wrap around each other. The tips and leaves are light green with a brittle and dry texture. Because of its tough texture, lemongrass is usually added to recipes whole, then removed and discarded before serving. The inner portion of the stalk can be eaten if finely chopped. Lemon juice (or lime) may be substituted for lemongrass in a pinch, but citrus fruits will not be able to fully replicate its particular qualities.
- Other Names
- Bai mak nao (Khmer); caña de limón, te de limón, or zacate de limón (Spanish); cimbopogone (Italian); cha krai, soet kroei, squinant, or takrai; (Thai); citronella; essef limon (Hebrew); hashisha al-limun (Arabic); remongurasu (Japanese); sa chanh or xa (Vietnamese); sera (Sinhalese); serai dapur (Malay); sereh (Indonesian); si khai (Laotian); verveine des Indes (French)
- Available fresh year-round at Asian markets and many grocery stores.
- Purchase and Avoid
- When purchasing lemongrass, look for firm stalks (not soft or rubbery, which means it's too old). Lower stalk should be pale yellow (almost white) in colour, while upper stalks are green (do not purchase if outer leaves are crusty or brown). Usually fresh lemongrass is sold in groupings of 3-4 stalks, secured with an elastic band. Stalks are approximately 30 cm long (or more). Look for fresh lemongrass at your local grocery store or Asian market. If you can't find it with the fresh produce, check the freezer section - lemongrass stalks are also sold in frozen packets. Note: you can also buy prepared, ready-to-use lemongrass: look for it in tubs in the freezer section of your local Asian/Chinese grocery store.
- Wrap lemongrass stalks tightly with foil or plastic wrap and store up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator, or freeze, chopping first if desired.
The softer, fleshier part of the lemongrass – which is what you want to use in your cooking – is located under the tough outer leaves. Peel away these layers with your fingers and discard. What you will uncover is a pale yellow stalk that is softer and easier to slice.
Use a sharp serrated knife to slice off the lower bulb. If you cut about 5 cm from the end, you should be able to remove the whole bulb, plus a little more. Discard.
Now it should be fairly easy to cut up the lemongrass. Starting from the lower end (where the bulb was), make thin slices up to 2/3 of the stalk.
Stop slicing when you have cut two-thirds of the way up the stalk, or when it is no longer yellow and "fleshy". The upper end the stalk will be mostly green and woody, but is still useful in cooking soups and curries. Reserve this top end of the stalk.
Because lemongrass is so firm and fibrous, it helps to process the slices a little further. Place the lemongrass in a food processor (or chopper) and process well on "high", OR pound for a minute or two with a pestle & mortar.
Your lemongrass should now appear finer – almost like yellow-green flakes. It is now ready to use in recipes such as curries or soups (note that the lemongrass still needs to cook or be boiled for at least 5 minutes before it is soft enough to be edible).
Use the lemongrass immediately, or store lemongrass by freezing it in a sealed container in your freezer.
With lemongrass, very little is wasted. You can use the upper, reserved stalk to add even more flavour and fragrance to soups and curries. Simply make several superficial cuts along the length of the stalk with your serrated knife. Then, holding the lemongrass at either end, gently bend it several times to "bruise" it. This will release the fragrance and flavour. Now throw the stalk into your soup or curry pot. Remember to remove the stalk before serving as it's inedible.
Blend Thai fish sauce, lemongrass, and chillies to make a sauce for chicken or fish.
Add a stalk of lemongrass to the water used to steam fish or seafood.
Blend chopped lemongrass with coconut milk and Thai holy basil to make a sauce for shellfish and chicken.
Category: Spices and Herbs
Sub Category: Herb
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