Lemongrass is – as the name implies – a type of grass with a distinct lemon flavor. It is an essential ingredient in many Thai dishes such as soups and curries but is also used in salads.
In the garden, lemongrass forms a tall, grassy clump from about 1 – 1.5 meters high. If you are lucky enough to have access to fresh lemongrass, the plants are ready to harvest when the stem bases are about 2 – 2.5 cm. thick. Hand pull entire stalks or cut them at the base. Cut off the grassy top part. They now look as they do when you buy them at the market: light green to yellowish stalks that are about 30 cm. long.
Lemongrass can be eaten raw. However, it is very fibrous and not easily chewable, so the grass is much better when it is worked on prior to eating.
Preparing lemongrass for cooking:
You can use lemongrass whole, sliced or pounded to a paste.
- Whole: To use whole, slice off the stiff top and the very bottom of the stalk, leaving only the more bulbous part. Remove any dried out or tough outer layers, to reach the more tender layers inside. (If your thumbnail can easily pierce it, that’s tender). Cut the remaining part in approx. 2.5 cm. large pieces. Cut it diagonally, as it will help release the flavors. To mince, smash it with the back of a knife or pound it lightly in a mortar. It further helps release some of the aromatic oils.
- Sliced: The cleaning process is the same as above. Slice the lemongrass as fine as possible. Reason being, that slices are often used raw in salads, and fine slices are easier to chew than large ones.
- Pounded to a paste: If you are going to use the lemongrass for a curry paste, after cleaning cut the stalks into smaller pieces at around 0.5 cm., as that will make it easier to pound in the mortar.
How do you store fresh lemongrass?
When tightly wrapped, good-quality lemongrass can be stored in the refrigerator for 2 weeks. In the freezer, you can store it for several months. Wash, trim and chop the lemongrass before freezing. A bit of the freshness will be lost, but the flavor remains.
If used whole, do you eat it?
They do soften a bit when used in soups. But I would still suggest removing the pieces before eating (they tend to be woody) or eat around them.
Are there any substitutes for lemongrass?
I highly recommended using lemongrass, if listed as an ingredient in a recipe. It gives the best result. It is usually available at Asian food stores, but you can also buy lemongrass online.
But, if you are unable to get it, try to substitute with the zest of one lemon as equal to two stalks of lemongrass. The lemon-like odor in the grass is due to it containing an essential oil, which is also present in lemon zest.