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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, December 26, 2001

Off the Shelf
Lemongrass an herb of many uses

Fresh lemongrass is sold with leaves trimmed short. Usually, you remove them and use only the pithy central core.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

Lemongrass is an herb used widely in Thai, Cambodian and Vietnamese cooking, but almost never in Chinese. The Chinese use the dried version to make a medicinal tea to aid digestion. Herbs and spices in most Asian cultures are rarely used in cooking as merely a flavoring. They almost always have another purpose as a tonic.

Looking like a dried-out, stiff version of green onions (scallions), lemongrass can be as long as two feet (although it is generally sold trimmed). It is often used only to infuse a dish with its lemony taste and fragrance and removed when the dish is ready. However, sometimes the recipe calls for the lemongrass to be chopped finely or pounded and left in as an integral part of the dish.

The herb is a relative of citronella, the plant that produces the pungent oil that wards off mosquitoes. But the two aren't interchangeable: Citronella is MUCH more potent. (Nor is lemon a proper substitute for lemon grass; the flavors differ.)

When purchasing lemongrass, look for stalks that appear as fresh as possible. Remove the fibrous outer leaves and pound the central core to release the flavor. Use only the inside core. Store lemongrass by wrapping the stalk loosely in a plastic bag and keeping it for up to a week in the bottom of your refrigerator.

ÊVietnamese cooks add fresh, finely chopped lemongrass to a fried rice dish along with chopped green onions, chopped red chilis, sea salt and chopped shrimp. It can also lend a delicate aroma to a fresh green papaya and beef salad topped with chopped peanuts.

— "Asian Ingredients" by Ken Hom