Thursday, September 24, 2015

Vegetable Feature: Lemongrass

by Andrea Yoder

stalk & leaves
Lemongrass is considered an herb, and is very fragrant and aromatic.  There are three parts to lemongrass and all the parts of the lemongrass can be used; the leaves, the middle stalk and the bulb.  The bulb contains the most refreshing lemon essence and only needs to be used in small amounts. The stalk has good flavor but is not as intense as the bulb’s and the leaves have a good lemon flavor followed by more of a “greens” taste.  When using the leaves, it takes about three times more product to achieve the flavor intensity of a bulb.  You can make a bundle with the leaves and use it to flavor pasta or rice while it is cooking.  Remove and discard the bundle when finished cooking.  You can also steep the leaves in hot water to make tea.  The middle section can be cut into sections a few inches in length.  You’ll find this section to be tough but flavorful.  Add them to sautéed dishes, to marinades and to flavor soups; discard before eating.  You can also use the stalk as a skewer for cooking kabobs or chicken satay or as a stirring stick for refreshing beverages.  The bulb is the most tender portion and can be sliced into thin pieces and added to soups, salads and other entrees where it can be eaten instead of discarded.  The secret to cooking with the bulb or the stem is to pound it with the back of a knife to release the oils before using.

Lemongrass Plant

Lemongrass combines well with ginger, garlic, basil, chilies, coconut milk, cilantro, cinnamon and clove.  It is frequently used in Thai, Vietnamese, African, Indian and even Mexican cuisine.  Soups, curries, marinades and teas are more common uses, but don’t limit the use of lemongrass to just these. You can use lemongrass anywhere a refreshing, crisp lemon taste is desired.  It is often a key to making some of your own homemade curries combined with fresh chiles, ginger, etc.  Lemongrass can be stored wrapped in plastic and put in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.  You can also freeze it whole or cut into smaller pieces and it can be dried for later use by hanging to air-dry or by using a food dehydrator.
Laurel with our lemongrass plantings
started in the greenhouse

While lemongrass provides great flavor, this grass also happens to be good for you!  Lemongrass is rich in a substance called citral, traditionally distilled from the leaves and stalks. Citral has shown to be helpful in aiding in the decrease of such ailments as muscle cramps and headaches, and well as aiding in digestion.  Studies have also shown that the components of the grass when boiled (in a tea for example) create multiple anti-oxidants that are believed to help prevent cancer.

Lemongrass Mojitos

Serves 2
2 lemongrass stalks
6 large fresh mint leaves
3 Tbsp sugar
6 Tbsp white rum
3 Tbsp fresh lime juice
Ice cubes
1 cup chilled club soda

  1. Cut the bottom 7 inches from each stalk of lemongrass.  Save the tops for garnish and thinly slice the stalks.  Combine sliced lemongrass, mint and sugar in a shaker; mash well with muddler or wooden spoon.  
  2. Add rum and lime juice to the lemongrass mixture; mash until all sugar dissolves.  Strain into 2 highball glasses.  Fill with ice; top with club soda.  Garnish with lemongrass tops.

Recipe originally published in Bon Appetit, November 18, 2009

Thai Larb

1 ½ pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces 
½ cup coarsely chopped shallots 
2 Tbsp thinly sliced lemongrass 
2 kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced 
1 small red Thai chile, thinly sliced 
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced 
2 tsp fish sauce 
1 tsp kosher salt 
3 Tbsp peanut oil or canola oil, divided 
8 small iceberg lettuce leaves
Cilantro, tender leaves and stems for garnish

  1. Combine first 8 ingredients in a food processor. Drizzle 1 Tbsp oil over and pulse until chicken is very finely chopped. 
  2. Heat remaining 2 Tbsp oil in a large heavy nonstick skillet over medium–high heat. Add chicken mixture and sauté, breaking up into small pieces with the back of a spoon, until chicken is starting to turn golden brown and is cooked through, about 6 minutes. 
  3. Place 2 lettuce leaves on each plate. Top leaves with chicken mixture, dividing evenly. Garnish with cilantro and spoon reserved dressing over.

⅓ cup fresh lime juice 
2 Tbsp fish sauce 
2 Tbsp (packed) light brown sugar 
½ tsp Sriracha sauce 

  1. Stir all ingredients in a small bowl to blend; set dressing aside. 

Recipe originally published in Bon Appetit, July 24, 2012

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