Lemongrass look a little like fat spring onions, with the same swollen base, but the stalk is woodier, and composed of tightly packed grey-green leaves. The fragrance and flavour is unique – lemony, but sweet – and is quite subtle until the stalk is cut or bashed. The stalks are available freeze-dried, too.
Lemongrass, or serai in Bahasa Malaysia, is perhaps one of the most used ingredients in the local Asian cuisine. It has a subtle citrus flavor and can be dried and powdered, or used fresh. It is commonly used as an additive in teas, soups, and curries. It is also suitable for use with poultry, fish, beef, and seafood. Although lemon grass is central to Asian cuisine, especially Thai, it works well in Western dishes, too. The plant is popular for its diverse applications as a cooking ingredient, preservative and mosquito repellent, not to mention it’s easy to grow and robust.
Tips for Buying
- You can find fresh lemongrass in most food and grocery stores (or your mum’s garden). It’s usually located with other fresh produce and often sold in bundles of 2 or 3 stalks.
- When buying fresh lemongrass, look for stalks that are fragrant, tightly formed, and of a lemony-green colour on the lower stalk (near the bulb), then turning to a truer green at the end of the stalk.
- Avoid purchasing stalks that are loose and coming apart as well as stalks that are brown and crusty or crumbling. These are old and probably not as fragrant or nutritious any longer.
- If you can’t find lemongrass with the fresh produce, check the freezer section. Because lemongrass freezes well, it’s often sold in frozen packets of about 6-8 stalks.
What you need
- Lemongrass stalk
- Cutting board
- Chef’s knife
- Mortar and pestle (optional)
- Food processor (optional)
- Microplane zester (optional)
How to prepare
Choose stalks that feel firm, smell fragrant, and look fresh. Look for tight bulbs and pale to bright green stems and tops. The tops may be somewhat dry, but avoid any that appear overly dried out, brown, or yellow. Although the entire stalk is edible, in general it is the tender middle section that is used.
Then, prepare your lemongrass by:
- Using a chef’s knife, trim the fibrous top and about two inches off the bottom. Discard the upper and lower parts or reserve for another use. (Try using the leaves to infuse soup or tea.)
- Using your fingers, peel away the tough outer layer(s) to reach the fleshy interior.
- Using a chef’s knife, thinly slice into rounds. Depending on the recipe, use as is or proceed to steps 6 or 7.
- For finer pieces, mince the slices with a chef’s knife.
- Alternatively, grind the slices using a mortar and pestle or food processor.
- A microplane zester may also be used to finely grate lemongrass for use in stir-fries or other recipes.
- Some soup or curry recipes call for bruised rather than minced lemongrass. To bruise, use the back of a knife to press the stalk in several places until fragrant.
- Bending the stalk is another way to bruise the lemongrass and release its oils.
- To store lemongrass, wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for up to two weeks or freeze for up to six months.