Nov 5
2010

Lemongrass 101

in Recipes By Region, Thai, Tips & Tricks

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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

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.

Cut off the lower bulb

Then peel off the tough outer leaves from the stalk.

Peel off the tough outer leaves

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.

Bruise the lemongrass

Lemongrass Method #2: Mortar & Pestle

With a very sharp knife, slice the lemongrass into thin rounds, discarding any ends that have dried out.

Thinly slice the lemongrass with a sharp knife

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.

Crush the slices with a mortar and pestle

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.

Use a food processor to grind up the lemongrass

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:

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }



paula bellalimento November 5, 2010 at 5:31 pm

I’m picking up lemongrass next trip to the market :-)

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Fuji Nana November 5, 2010 at 5:34 pm

I must confess that I too have been intimidated by fresh lemongrass and have wimped out and used powdered lemongrass instead. I know–it’s hard to believe I’m related to you. These instructions give me courage. I will try fresh. I will! I will!

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lejarie November 5, 2010 at 6:06 pm

Wow is post is very helpful. Just last weekend I made lemongrass curry soup with some lemongrass I had frozen, half a cube of japanese curry roux, some beef stock and some lemon and bay leaves. My husband loved it! I had never used lemongrass before so I totally improvised. After reading your post now I know how to use it and the soup will be even better next time!

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Karen from Globetrotter Diaries November 5, 2010 at 10:44 pm

Great and useful post! LOVE lemongrass! Where did u get your Japanese mortar and pestle? (Please don’t say Japan…)

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blackbookkitchendiaries November 6, 2010 at 8:02 am

i really love using lemon grass… i grew up loving the flavors and cant never get enough of it.. this post is really very helpful for anyone who wants to try it out…and the pictures are just gorgeous.

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ElsieD November 6, 2010 at 9:55 am

That is a very helpful post. I never really was quite sure if I was preparing lemongrass properly and when a new Asian store opened in my city, I bought fresh, minced, frozen (is that an oxymoron?) lemongrass. Now the problem is how much of that to use when a recipe calls for 1 stalk of lemongrass. Anyone have any ideas? Once I have used this up, I will use fresh lemongrass.

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Rachel November 6, 2010 at 4:41 pm

huh, I’ve never cooked with lemongrass but now that I know how to prepare it I’ll have to give it a try! I certainly love it’s flavor when I encounter it.

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Fuji Papa November 7, 2010 at 4:07 am

I am not a major lemon grass fan and had no idea what it even was until reading yourpost. Now I’ll have new eyes as I eat Thai or eat some of your food. Thanks for the tutorial.

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rebecca November 7, 2010 at 6:31 pm

wonderful post will share :-)

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Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite November 12, 2010 at 5:28 am

Fabulous tutorial Rachael!

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Nichole March 28, 2011 at 11:08 pm

Also: lemon grass + microplane grater = perfection!

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Stuart April 2, 2013 at 4:31 pm

This was THE best description of how to select, trim and use lemongrass that I’ve found anywhere on the WWW. Thanks VERY much for taking the care to write such a clear and comprehensive article. Writers everywhere should learn from your example.

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Karen November 10, 2014 at 1:58 am

I was taught in Thailand to cut in a slant. I think it releases more flavors…I’m not exactly sure why.

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Kelly August 27, 2016 at 7:32 pm

Thank you so much for this information. I am a new student in a culinary arts program. I am currently enrolled in a sustainable kitchen class where we are growing hydroponic herbs and herbs outdoors for use in our cooking classes. Our first assignment is to write a report about an herb. I selected lemongrass because Tom Khai Gai is one of my favorite comfort foods. This information was so helpful and I can’t wait to try your recipe for Tom Khai Gai.

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