The zesty lemon flavor of lemongrass is a tasty element in Asian cuisine. The grassy stalks are used in soups and curries as well as in a refreshing tea. The tough stems must be sliced, crushed and cooked to release the flavor into your favorite recipes. The leaves can also be chopped and dried for use in teas and for cooking.
How to Obtain Lemongrass
If you're fortunate enough to have your own lemongrass growing in a large flowerpot or in the garden, you can harvest fresh lemongrass for cooking. Otherwise, you can find fresh and sometimes frozen lemongrass stalks at Asian grocery stores. You may also find fresh lemongrass at farmers' markets.
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Cutting the Lemongrass
You can divide a stalk of lemongrass into three sections: the bulb base, the stem and the leaves. Cut off the roots and pull off the woody outer layers to expose the inner core. Trim off the leaves and set them aside.
Use a sharp knife and slice the core into thin rounds, beginning at the base. Continue slicing until the stalk color changes from yellow to greenish and it becomes woody. Set aside the remaining stalk for use in stocks and tea.
Preparing the Center Stalks
Crush the sliced rounds with a mortar and pestle or process it in a food processor until the lemongrass has the appearance of flakes. If the recipe calls for the soup or curry to simmer for at least 30 minutes, add the processed flakes directly to the dish. The lemongrass will infuse the dish with its distinctive lemony flavor.
Alternatively, place the lemongrass flakes in a pot and cover them with water. Bring it to a rolling boil and cook for at least five minutes. The boiling softens the lemongrass and makes it edible. Strain and save the water to use in the soup or curry. Use the softened portion immediately in your favorite lemongrass recipes.
Making Lemongrass Stock
Use the reserved stalks to make soups or stock. Slash the sides of the stalks and crush lightly or bend a few times to release the citrusy flavor of the lemongrass. Place the three or more lemongrass stalks in a large stock pot with 4 quarts of water. Add a combination of fresh and dried ingredients such as cabbage, garlic, onions, mushrooms, fennel and other vegetables and herbs.
Bring it to a boil and cook for at least 30 minutes. Remove it from the heat and add your preferred fresh herbs. Allow the herbs to steep for 15 to 30 minutes and then strain the stock. Discard the vegetables and herbs. Boil it again if desired to concentrate the broth. Allow the stock to cool and store it in the refrigerator for up to two days.
Make Lemongrass Tea
Cut the tough upper portion of the stalks into 2-inch sections. You can also chop the green leaves to use in the tea. Put the lemongrass pieces in a saucepan and cover them with boiling water. Continue to boil it over medium-high heat and cook for five to 10 minutes. Strain and sweeten it with honey or sugar. Drink it hot.
Alternatively, allow the lemongrass to simmer longer for a more intense flavor. Strain it and add honey or sugar. Stir it until the sweetening dissolves. Cool it and put it in the refrigerator. Serve it over ice cubes with a slice of lime.
Grow Your Own Lemongrass
You can grow your own lemongrass at home. Purchase a small plant at the nursery or root your own by placing a fresh lemongrass stalk in water. It will develop roots in about two weeks.
Fill a large flowerpot with a rich potting mix. Moisten the soil thoroughly before planting the lemongrass in the center of the pot. If setting a row of plants along a patio or in a raised bed, space them 3 feet apart. Lemongrass grows 3 to 5 feet tall and 3 feet wide.
Grow lemongrass in full sun. Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged. Fertilize with a slow-release fertilizer or use a water-soluble fertilizer diluted to half strength every week. Harvest the lemongrass when the base of the stalks reach 1/2 inch in diameter. Remove the outer stalks by twisting and pulling up the entire stem.