Lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus), a native of India, is used in Asian (Thai and Vietnamese) and Caribbean cooking. Lemon grass is a perennial, which means once you plant it; the grass comes back year after year. Depending on the area you live in, the plant will go dormant in the winter, or will need to be potted and wintered indoors.
This is a very pungent herb, so a small amount packs a lot of flavor. The entire stalk of the grass can be used; the grass blade can be sliced very fine, while the bulb can be bruised and minced.
The light lemon flavor of this grass blends well with garlic, chilies, and cilantro; yet can be used to make a refreshing tea.
1/4 cup Chopped fresh lemongrass tops or 2 tablespoons dried lemongrass
4 cups boiling water
Sugar to taste
Preheat teapot with boiling water; discard water. Add lemongrass and boiling water, steep 8 to 10 minutes; strain. Serve hot or allow to cool, sweeten to taste, and serve in tall glasses with ice.
Medicinal and Other Uses
This grass is rich in a substance called citral, the active ingredient in lemon peel. This substance is said to aid in digestion as well as relieve spasms, muscle cramps, rheumatism and headaches.
Lemon grass is also used commercially as the lemon scent in many products including soaps, perfumes and candles. A related plant, (Cymbopogon nardus) is the ingredient in citronella candles sold to ward off mosquitoes and other insects.
Buying and Storing
Lemon grass can be found in most Asian markets. Select fresh looking stalks that do not look dry or brittle. Store fresh lemon grass in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed plastic bag for up to 3 weeks, or freeze it for about 6 months without any flavor loss.
In addition to fresh, lemon grass may be purchased dried or powdered. The dried product has to be soaked in hot water and reconstituted before use. The powdered variety is useful in teas and curries, but is not a good substitute for the fresh product.
Thai Hot and Sour Soup
This is a flavorful soup that is great for a cold winter's night
1/4 cup ginger, peeled and julienned
1 large onion, slivered
4 Thai bird chiles
3 stalks lemon grass, white part only, sliced
1/4 cup fish sauce
6 cups chicken stock
6 kaffir lime leaves
3/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup Thai basil leaves
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 cups sautéed sliced shiitake mushrooms
1 cup enoki mushrooms
1/4 cup sliced scallions
1/2 cup chopped scallions, green part only
Sauté ginger, onion, chiles and lemon grass until soft. Deglaze pan with fish sauce. Add chicken stock and lime leaves. Simmer and reduce the liquid by 20 per cent. Add vinegar, basil and pepper. Check for seasoning. Strain the soup. Add sautéed shiitakes, fresh enoki mushrooms and sliced scallions. Ladle soup in soup plates. Garnish with green scallions.
Makes 4 servings.
Note: sautéed shrimp or chicken can be added to the soup; approximate 1/4 cup per serving.