Thai restaurants are often my first choice when dining out as the food is both flavorful and healthy. Since my consumption of Thai food has been largely limited to restaurants, I decided to add a few Thai culinary herbs to my kitchen garden last spring. Thinking that I might be inspired to cook Thai food at home, I planted Thai basil and lemongrass. Having researched neither, I tucked the lemongrass in beside the basil and waited. Imagine my surprise when the lemongrass sprouted like Jack’s legendary beanstalk, concealing the rest of the herbs under its graceful fronds.
The lemongrass plant (Cymbopogon citrates), native to Africa and Asia, has a long history of culinary and medicinal uses. An article in Mother Earth Living (below) offers an exhaustive list of its uses, from treating ringworm and lice to scenting soaps and perfumes, to repelling tigers!
This aromatic plant with its long blue-green, tapered leaves is quite lovely. While it is the wrong plant for my tiny space, I will definitely continue to grow lemongrass. I understand that the plant will overwinter easily in a pot indoors and that I can divide it for planting in the garden next spring. I intend to place several clumps in front of my gas meter to form an attractive barrier.
Lemongrass is very easy to harvest, simply cutting each stalk from the base of the plant. One plant produces an abundance of stalks, resembling somewhat ‘woody’ scallions when cut. With its purported antioxidant qualities, the herb is frequently used for teas or added to broths, much as one would toss a bay leaf into the pot. Other culinary uses include stir fry dishes, curry pastes, and marinades. As its essential oils are in the stalks’ cell walls, the stalks are often bruised by pounding them with a mallet to release the oils. Watch the YouTube video below for instructions on how to prepare lemongrass for a variety of dishes.
The following recipe is one I created after trying out several different recipes for sauces and dressings, each a variation on the same theme. This one uses less sugar and more vinegar than some because I like the sour taste of vinegar, but you may choose to reduce the acidity of the recipe by adding more sugar to taste. I used this as both a marinade for shrimp over Thai noodles and as a dipping sauce for dumplings. I think it would be equally tasty in a rice salad or over poached fish.
3 Tablespoons minced lemongrass, inner portion
½ cup rice vinegar
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
2 Tablespoons Thai fish sauce
2 Tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon minced scallion
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Add ½ cup cold water and let sit for 15 minutes.
“Herb to Know: Lemongrass,” Mother Earth Living (February/March 1997, Betsy Strauch), www.motherearthliving.com/plant-profile/an-herb-to-know-26