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How to Use Lemongrass in Cooking

Fresh lemongrass on a wooden table
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Lemongrass is a popular herb known for its vibrant citrusy flavor and fragrant aroma common in many Southeast Asian cuisine. Today, we’ll show you how to prepare lemongrass for your cooking.

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What is Lemongrass?

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) is a perennial herb belonging to the grass family. Native to tropical regions of Southeast Asia, lemongrass is widely used in Asian cuisine for its distinct citrusy flavor and aromatic qualities.

This herb boasts long, fibrous stalks with coarse and fibrous outer layers and a tender inner core often pale-yellow to white.

Origins and Cultural Significance

Lemongrass has a rich history deeply rooted in Southeast Asian culinary traditions.

It is commonly associated with Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian, and Indonesian cuisines, where it infuses dishes with its unique flavor profile. The herb’s zesty essence perfectly complements the vibrant spices and aromatic herbs used in these cuisines.

Health Benefits of Lemongrass

Beyond its culinary appeal, lemongrass is revered for its potential health benefits. It contains essential oils, vitamins, and minerals, making it a valuable addition to your diet.

Lemongrass has been traditionally used for its soothing properties, promoting digestion, relieving anxiety, and even supporting overall immune health. Its aromatic compounds also make it a popular choice in aromatherapy and natural skincare products.

How to Prepare Lemongrass

Let’s learn how to prepare lemongrass properly to extract its full flavor potential. Lemongrass has a fibrous outer layer that needs to be removed, and the inner layers hold the concentrated citrusy goodness. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to handle this herb:

  1. Selecting Fresh Lemongrass Stalks: When purchasing lemongrass, look for stalks that are firm, tightly packed, and have a vibrant green color. Avoid ones that appear wilted or have discolored outer layers. Freshness is key to capturing that distinct lemongrass flavor.
  2. Removing the Tough Outer Layers: To expose the tender inner layers, you need to remove the tough outer leaves of the lemongrass stalk. Start by cutting off the root end, leaving about an inch intact. Gently peel away the dry, papery layers until you reach the softer, pale-yellow or white sections beneath. These inner layers hold the aromatic oils that carry the intense flavor.
  3. Bruising the Lemongrass: To extract maximum flavor, it’s important to bruise the lemongrass stalks before using them in your dishes. Bruising refers to lightly crushing or bending the stalks to help release the essential oils and intensify the aroma. You can achieve this by using the back of a knife or a meat tenderizer to gently tap along the length of the stalk. Be careful not to flatten or break the stalk completely—just enough to bruise it.
  4. Slicing the Lemongrass: Once you’ve removed the tough outer layers and bruised the stalks, it’s time to slice them according to your recipe’s requirements.
    • For most recipes, you’ll want to use the lower part of the stalk where the flavor is most concentrated.
    • Start by cutting off the lower bulb-like portion of the stalk and discard it.
    • Then, depending on the recipe, slice the upper part of the stalk into thin rounds or long strips. The thinner the slices, the more surface area there will be to infuse the dish with lemongrass flavor.
  5. Infusing the Lemongrass: Now that you have your prepared lemongrass, you’re ready to infuse it into various recipes. Lemongrass is often used in broths, soups, curries, and marinades.
    • It’s crucial to note that lemongrass is fibrous and not meant to be consumed directly, so it’s usually added for flavor infusion rather than as an ingredient to chew on.

Where to Buy Lemongrass

  1. Local Grocery Stores: Many well-stocked grocery stores carry fresh lemongrass in the produce section, particularly those with an Asian or international focus. Look for it alongside other fresh herbs or in the Asian produce aisle.
  2. Asian Markets: Specialty Asian markets are excellent sources for buying lemongrass. They often have a wide selection of fresh herbs and ingredients used in Asian cuisine. Lemongrass can typically be found in the herb section or near the produce area.
  3. Farmers’ Markets: Check out your local farmers’ markets, especially during the warmer months. Local growers often offer fresh herbs like lemongrass, providing you with an opportunity to support local agriculture while enjoying the finest quality ingredients.
  4. Online Retailers: If you have difficulty finding fresh lemongrass locally, consider exploring online retailers specializing in herbs and spices. While most sell a dried version, some specialty produce retailers may offer fresh lemongrass stalks that can be conveniently delivered to your doorstep.

Basic Lemongrass Recipes

  1. Lemongrass Chicken Soup: Warm your soul with a bowl of yummy lemongrass chicken soup. To make, simmer chicken pieces, ginger, garlic, and lemongrass stalks in a flavorful broth. Add a squeeze of lime juice for an extra tangy kick, and garnish with cilantro and sliced green onions. This soup is so comforting!
  2. Thai Lemongrass Curry: Let dinner be inspired by the bustling streets of Thailand with a vibrant lemongrass curry. Sauté lemongrass, galangal, and garlic in a pan, then add your choice of protein, such as chicken or tofu, along with your favorite colorful vegetables. Pour in creamy coconut milk and let it simmer. Serve it over steamed rice for a complete Thai experience.
  3. Lemongrass Stir-Fry: Heat up your wok and make a sizzling lemongrass stir-fry. Slice lemongrass stalks into thin strips and toss them with your favorite veggies, such as peppers, carrots, and snap peas. Add marinated chicken or tofu for a protein boost. Drizzle with a zesty sauce made from lime juice, soy sauce, and a touch of honey. My husband loves this dish!

Tips and Tricks When Cooking with Lemongrass

  • Lemongrass freezes well, so don’t hesitate to stock up and store it in the freezer. When needed, just slice it directly from the frozen stalk.
  • Lemongrass marinades infuse a nice fragrance into grilled meats and seafood. Combine chopped lemongrass with ginger, garlic, lime juice, and a splash of soy sauce for a flavor boost.
  • For a refreshing twist, muddle lemongrass in a mortar and pestle, then add it to salads or mix it into a zesty cocktail. Lemongrass-infused vodka with a splash of lime juice and soda water is perfect for those hot summer days.

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