The mention of lemongrass conjures up images of Southeast Asian cuisine. Although the herb dates back centuries in Asia, it has only recently been appreciated in the West.
A staple essence in both Vietnamese and Thai cooking, it is primarily used to infuse flavor into sauces and soups or to marinate meats and fish. Today, the unique citrus flavor is showing up in everything from teas to desserts, as chefs discover intriguing pairings with this exotic herb.
The basics: Lemongrass grows wild all over Southeast Asia. The plant is prized for its long, woody and fibrous stalk, which contains citral, an essential oil that provides the same citrus quality found in the peel of lemons.
Its long, grayish-green stalk resembles a sturdy green onion with green leaves and a bulbous white root end. Lemongrass is too fibrous to eat in and of itself and is best used as an herb. The plant also acts as a natural insect repellent in the same manner as the citronella (scented geranium).
Selecting: Lemongrass is normally sold in small bunches with the sharp, grassy leaves trimmed off. Choose stalks that are plump at the base and not too dry-looking.
Storing: The plant is very sturdy and will stay fresh for up to two weeks in the refrigerator wrapped in plastic. You can also mince it, place it in a sealable plastic bag and freeze it for a couple of months.
Use: Trim the outer fibrous stalks off if necessary. The entire stalk is edible, but generally only the bottom third is used. Mince or slice the stalk thinly and use in soup stocks (such as Thai tom yum) or make a marinade of minced lemongrass, shallots, garlic, soy sauce, fish sauce, sugar and a dash of salt for pork chops, chicken or fish. Grill the meat for a tasty summer entrée.
Where to buy: Up until a couple of years ago you could only find lemongrass in specialty Southeast Asian markets in Chinatown. Now it has popped up in supermarkets such as Safeway and Foodland on a regular basis. It sells for $1.59 to $1.99 a bunch.
Food Stuffs: Morsels
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