Pre-Thailand I thought lemongrass was exotic. Now I know better. It’s difficulty level to grow here is actually one step higher than weed. It surpasses “weed” status only because such classic Thai dishes as green curry chicken and tom kha gai (Thai coconut chicken soup) rely on it. Therefore, if you don’t make the nominal effort of popping a stalk of it in your yard so it will propagate, you may find yourself without it when you need it. And actually, even that is almost a non-issue, as you will be able to easily run to the local market to pick some up – even the most humble of farmers will be selling it – but still…
In addition to its delicate citrus flavor, lemongrass also has medicinal benefits. Commonly known in English as “fever grass,” lemongrass and especially concentrated lemongrass essential oil contains a variety of vitamins and minerals. It has been valued as a reliever of headaches and stomach aches, muscle pain, and fever. In short, it’s a healthy addition to your kitchen toolkit. Plus, it tastes good. For more information on the healthy benefits of lemongrass essential oil, see this article by Dr Josh Axe.
What I have mostly noticed about lemongrass is that, in the garden, it’s somewhat like the mint plant back in Colorado, where I come from. If left unchecked it will take over the yard, not in a horizontal underground creeper way like mint, but in a tumbleweed or dust-bunny kind of way. It continually grows taller and wider above the ground. This makes it easier than mint to control since all you have to do it cut back the encroaching stalks. While managing your lemongrass requires some effort, the upside is that growing it makes pretend and/or negligent gardeners, like myself, feel totally pro.
These days, I use lemongrass as ornamental plants in the yard, which incidentally is supposed to also keep wasps away. I try to remember to cut them back regularly. Even more satisfying, though, is when I remember to use them in cooking.
In case you are puzzled as to what to do with this grassy goodness, here are 5 tried and true ways to feature lemongrass in your kitchen creations:
1. Chop it up very fine and fry it with thinly sliced garlic as a garnish to things. Like in this fish sauce/honey/pepper marinated pork chops. Side Note: I swap out the vegetable oil with coconut oil or another less-processed fat.
2. As part of the flavor profile for a Thai-inspired roasted nut mix, as seen here.
3. Easy Ginger-Lemongrass Tea to drink hot or cold, depending on your mood.
4. Make a batch of this zippy Pounded Lemongrass Chicken with it. If there are leftovers, this chicken can easily be turned into an excellent Asian chicken salad with the addition of mayo, lettuce and tomatoes, to be eaten plain, in a big juicy tomato flower or on rye crisps. Or, just reheat a piece, slice it into strips and place it on top of an otherwise typical Caesar salad for a “Thai-inspired Chicken Caesar.” Side Note: Again, I would swap out the 2 T veg oil in this recipe for coconut oil.
5. Try making this oh-so tropical dessert – these lemongrass bars with a shortbread-coconut crust are more subtle than a full-on lemon bar, but still impart lemony and compelling tropical notes. They have found fans in my home.
6. (Bonus) Lemongrass stalks, peeled down a bit, make attractive swizzle sticks to a vodka or gin and tonic. They are sturdy and add a subtle, complimentary flavor to the usual lime garnish.
Whatever you do with lemongrass, don’t be intimidated by it. It’s easy to work with, contains health benefits and adds a lovely flavor to foods and drinks.