Lemongrass: What is it?
Most fresh herbs have you at hello with the beguiling shape of their leaves, their singular texture, their tempting fragrance. But lemongrass (also called citronella root) is different. It’s tough, but hidden within each fibrous, foot-long stalk of this Southeast Asian grass lurks incomparable character: It’s floral without being cloying, lemony without being tart—those lemony notes come from the same compound in lemon zest. Lop off the spiky tops (use them to infuse a pot of rice or as grilling skewers) and peel away the tough outer layers of white bottom stalk. Crush, slice, or mince those four inches of pale bottom, and lemongrass will reveal itself. It plays especially well with garlic, onion, and ginger, the flavors that often partner it in Southeast Asian recipes. Lemongrass is like no other herb in the world, and in cooking, there’s just no substitute.
Practitioners of natural medicine prize lemongrass for its ability to relieve fever, muscle spasms, and muscle cramps. It’s also reputed to help cure an upset stomach and headaches. Lemongrass is used as an antiseptic, as well. It’s thought to help relieve oily skin and to promote healthy-looking hair.
How to Buy and Store:
Choose whole, firm stalks that are as unblemished as possible, with a good four inches of thick white bottom stalk. Avoid dried or pre-packaged (some stores mistakenly wrap and sell the green part, tossing the white bit). Wrapped in plastic and kept dry, lemongrass will last for at least ten days in the fridge.
3 Quick Ways to Use Lemongrass:
Salad: Toss minced lemongrass with lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, minced shallot, hot sauce, and sliced Napa cabbage.
Soup: Simmer sliced lemongrass in chicken broth with garlic and ginger. Strain; add shredded chicken, rice noodles, lime juice, and cilantro.
Shellfish: Combine white wine, chopped lemongrass, chopped shallots, and crushed red pepper. Add two pounds of mussels; cover and steam until all shells have opened.