Lemongrass gives Thai curries their unique lemony, fresh taste. This woody, fragrant herb can also elevate a cocktail recipe a bit or make a simple iced lemonade exotic. The stalks cannot be eaten as they are woody and tough, but they must be properly prepared to retain maximum flavor and fragrance from their essential oils.
How do you use lemongrass?
So let’s get straight to the proper use of lemongrass in curries, soups and stews. We answer the most common questions about using lemongrass.
How do I choose and buy lemongrass?
Fresh lemongrass stalks have a distinctive vegetal, floral aroma. If you’re lucky enough to find fresh stems, make sure you buy ones with a strong scent. Choose stems that are firm, unblemished, and relatively heavy when you hold them. They should ideally be whitish-green to light green in color. Brown, flaky, or stalks that come off easily when you hold them are a no-go, as they’re likely dried out and adding no flavor to the dish.
You can find fresh lemongrass in the fruit and veg section of Asian grocers or most supermarkets. It is also readily available online. You can sometimes find the freeze-dried stems in the frozen section of grocery stores. As a last option, you can also buy the dried version if you can’t find the fresh ones, but they don’t give off the bright, lemony scent that fresh stems give.
How is lemongrass prepared?
To prepare lemongrass, you need a sharp, serrated knife. Here is the step-by-step method of using lemongrass:
- First you need to remove the tough outer leaves of the lemongrass stalks by peeling them off with your fingers.
- The soft inner part of the stem is what you want to use for cooking.
- You can use whole stalks to flavor curries or soups and remove them just before serving.
- Be sure not to incise the stems or tap on the kitchen counter to release the aromatic oils before using.
- Alternatively, you can cut off the end of the bulb and slice the lower third of the stem into circular slices.
- Using an old-fashioned mortar and pestle or food processor, make a fine paste. It is still fibrous and needs to be well cooked in curries or soups to be edible.
Lemongrass leaves can be used in the same way as the stems. Break them up by twisting or tapping them lightly, and use kitchen scissors to cut them into manageable pieces to steep in tea. Be sure to strain the drink as the leaves are too fibrous to chew.
How do you cook with lemongrass?
Depending on the purpose, you can cut the lemongrass stalk in two ways.
For soups, teas and cocktails
First you need to cut off the hard parts of the stems. Crush the rest to release the herb’s aromatic essential oils. You can also cut the stalks into 1-inch pieces and add them to any soup or broth of your choice. Remove the stems before serving. You can try this delicious fragrant tea with the stalks – How to Make Fresh Lemongrass Tea.
For pastes and salads
When using for salads, be sure to trim off fibrous parts of the stems and use the 3-4 inch soft center section. Lemongrass releases flavor the longer it’s cooked. Add at the beginning of a recipe for rich lemon flavor. If you want a milder flavor, add it a little later in the cooking phase to avoid an overpowering herbal flavor.
You can store the stalks in the fridge for up to two weeks, but make sure you wrap them in cling film. Lemongrass also freezes very well. You can freeze whole stalks to use whenever you need them.