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Thai and Vietnamese make the list of some of my all-time favorite world cuisines. I love the bright, rich, and spicy flavors that appear in so many of their dishes. One of the ingredients that is a staple in both cuisines, and an ingredient that I love, is lemongrass. I am no expert when it comes to Thai or Vietnamese food, but I have learned a thing or two about using lemongrass so that I could cook with it. In September I shared a recipe for Coconut Lemongrass Somen Noodle Soup, and a reader commented that she had purchased lemongrass before, but ended up throwing it away because she didn’t know how to use it and asked if I would give a primer on lemongrass. So here we go!!
Lemongrass, as the name indicates, is a grass that has a citrusy flavor to it. It is a tough fibrous grass, and thus can seem daunting to use if you aren’t familiar with it. But using it is actually quite easy. When you buy lemongrass, avoid any that is starting to turn brown or looks dry or brittle. I also usually avoid lemongrass that has already been cut into pieces (like the picture above right), as I find that the pieces have already started to dry out. Fresh lemongrass can be kept it in a tightly sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks, until you are ready to use it. When you cook with lemongrass, remember that it is tough and fibrous, so make sure that you cook it long enough to soften it and allow it to release all of its flavor (at least 5 to 10 minutes).
How To Prepare Lemongrass For Cooking
When you are ready to cook with it, use a sharp knife to cut off the root end, plus part of the bulb.
Then peel off the tough outer leaves from the stalk.
From this point, there are 3 different ways to use the stalks. The first method doesn’t require any special equipment.
Lemongrass Method #1: Bruise the stalks
Cut the stalks into 3 inch lengths, discarding any ends that have dried out. Then bruise the pieces by making small shallow cuts into each piece, and then bending the pieces in multiple places. Bruising the pieces will help release the essential oils from the lemongrass, which will then add more flavor to whatever you are cooking. Add the pieces to the dish you are cooking. When serving the dish, remove the pieces.
Lemongrass Method #2: Mortar & Pestle
With a very sharp knife, slice the lemongrass into thin rounds, discarding any ends that have dried out.
Then pound the slices using a mortar and pestle, until the lemongrass is soft, as ground up as possible, and fragrant. Add the lemongrass “mash” to the dish you are cooking. When serving, the lemongrass does not have to be removed.
Lemongrass Method #3: Food Processor
With a very sharp knife, slice the lemongrass into thin rounds, discarding any ends that have dried out. Put the slices into a food processor and pulse until the lemongrass is well processed. Add the processed lemongrass to the dish you are cooking. When serving, the lemongrass does not have to be removed.
Advantages/Disadvantages of Different Methods
The advantage to method #1 is that you don’t risk having any thick fibrous pieces end up in someone’s bowl, but you still get lots of flavor in whatever you are cooking. You also do not have to have any special equipment. The advantage to methods #2 and #3, are that you are adding more fiber, nutrients, and flavor to the dish. The disadvantage is that it takes a bit more work and requires a piece of special equipment. So which method do I prefer? I actually prefer method #2. Although it is the most time consuming, I find that it produces the best results. I think that it maximizes the lemongrass flavor. I prefer it to method #3, because unlike method #3, you are actually crushing the lemongrass slices, instead of chopping them up. This helps better release the essential oils in the lemongrass, giving better flavor. I love using my suribachi, a Japanese style mortar and pestle (pictured above), to do the job. The sharp ceramic grooves in the mortar help make the job easier.
Now that you know how to use lemongrass all that’s left to do is figure out what to make and get cooking! Here are two recipes to help you get started:
Delicious looking recipes from around the web:
- Grilled Lemongrass Ginger Chicken (Shockingly Delicious)
- Grilled Lemongrass Shrimp Skewers (Ravenous Couple)
- Lemongrass Tofu Banh Mi (Banh Mi Battle)
- Tofu in Coconut Sauce with Ginger and Lemongrass (Pinch My Salt)
- Versatile Curry Gravy with Fried Fish (White on Rice Couple)
- Watermelon & Honeydew Sorbets With Lemongrass Sauce (Tartelette)
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