Get to Know: Lemongrass
Few herbs have quite as many alternative names as lemongrass. Officially known as Cymbopogon, this ingredient is hugely popular with Thai and East Asian chefs – and for good reason. It’s hugely versatile, especially as it can be chopped, sliced, diced, peeled or tossed in a recipe whole, and it provides an unmistakable flavour.
In Thailand and other parts of South East Asia, lemongrass has been used for at least 5,000 years, not just as a culinary aid, but also for medicinal and beauty purposes.
As you can probably tell from the unofficial nickname, lemongrass provides a fresh, clean citrus sensation for the palate, though there is also a hint of sweetness. It’s available from most supermarkets as a whole, fresh herb that slightly resembles a spring onion in shape, or you can pick it up pre-chopped and packed.
If you decide to purchase lemongrass whole, the flavour is found at the bulbous bottom of the ingredient so focus your chopping there! You could also crush the stalk a little, which will release some of the flavoursome oils and enhance the qualities of the herb. Do be careful when choosing fresh lemongrass if you want to get the best out of this delicious plant.
You’ll be able to keep lemongrass fresh for around a week or two once you’ve purchased it (the herb is a natural preservative so it will also keep other ingredients fresh), but make sure you purchase a fresh stalk. If the lemongrass is light as a feather in your hand, it’s probably dry and you will not maximise the many qualities it has to offer. An ideal lemongrass herb will be firm in your hand and reassuringly weighty, devoid of any visible bruising.
Lemongrass can be applied to many dishes such as curries, stews, noodles or stir fry dishes, not forgetting how it will lift flavours in a vegan or vegetarian meal. You could even use it as a delicious herbal tea ingredient, or to add some zest to a cocktail by leaving a stalk in a bottle of vodka for a few days before mixing a drink! If you are keen to avoid this ingredient but replicate the taste sensation you could reach for lemon zest, but lemongrass provides a unique combination of fantastic flavour and health-boosting goodness.
Cooking with Lemongrass
To use lemongrass in your home-cooked meals, start off by cutting the lower bulb and remove the dry rough outer layer of leaf. The main stalk is what you want to use, you have two options on how you can prepare the lemongrass for cooking.
First is to cut the stalk into 2-3cm length pieces and then 'bruise' these pieces. To bruise you can either bend them several times or an easier way is to get a rolling pin and gently roll over the stalk. Bruising allows the natural oils of the herb to be let out from the tough skin more easily.
This is really important to do if you are using lemongrass in a stir fry as the cooking time is generally short, so making the oils easier to come out will benefit your cooking greatly. You won't need to bruise larger pieces if you were cooking lemongrass in a soup/broth, as all the natural goodness will be out by the time the dish is finished.
The second way to prepare lemongrass is to finely chop it. This works particularly well if you were going to use lemongrass in a paste, the small the pieces are the easier it is to be pounded in a paste. This preparation will also work if you are cooking a quick soup. The finer pieces will allow the natural oils to be released during the short cooking time.
Health benefits of Lemongrass
In addition to its edible qualities, lemongrass is also famous for its healing properties. It’s fantastic for easing the symptoms of PMS, it can level out blood alcohol levels, is frequently used to boost recovery from wounds and injuries, and it also acts as a natural antioxidant once consumed. Toss in the unmistakable and astonishingly appealing aroma of this herb, and you have an essential item for any kitchen!
The list of uses in medicine is all but endless, proving the outstanding qualities of this herb:
Healthy cell growth Fights infection Balances cholesterol levels Combats fatigue Soothes anxiety symptoms Relieves stomach disorders Calms fever, aches and pains
Lemongrass is also an ‘aromatic healer’ and is widely used in aromatherapy and samunprai massage treatments. Interested in samunprai... read about its history and practice in our blog post here!
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