What is lemongrass?
The citrus touch of lemongrass plays a starring role in Tom Kha Gai, the traditional Thai soup of spicy coconut broth simmered with chicken, vegetables and fresh basil. This herb is a favourite ingredient that is used extensively in Asian cuisine and also makes a refreshing herbal tea.
Originally a native plant in India and the tropical regions of Asia, lemongrass is used in teas, soups and curries as well as in meat, chicken and seafood dishes. It also adds a delicious flavour when used to infuse cooking liquids to steam mussels and clams.
In Australia, it is a common sight at supermarkets, greengrocers and Asian food stores. As it is a perennial plant, home gardeners are guaranteed a supply of lemongrass year after year.
In Australia, lemongrass is not sold by variety. This herb has fibrous white stalks that turn green towards their tips.
Only the white part of lemongrass is used in cooking. The tough outer layers are usually removed. The stalks are quite hard, so the stalks are usually bruised (by pressing or crushing) to help extract the lemon flavor when added to dishes such as curries and soups. The white part of the stalk can also be finely sliced or chopped and added to recipes.
Why lemongrass is good to eat
- Lemongrass contains vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and folate (needed for the production of energy and red blood cells).
- It also contains minerals such as potassium (which helps to regulate blood pressure), manganese (involved in the regulation of brain and nerve function), magnesium and calcium (involved in the regulation of muscle, heart and nerve function and keeping bones strong) and iron (involved in red blood cell production).
- Lemongrass does not contain dietary fibre.
- Energy – 100 g of lemongrass supplies 414 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
Lemongrass grows best when it is planted in a sunny position and given plenty of water. It is a perennial tall grass (grows back year after year) and grows to about 1 m. The plant forms rounded clumps of foliage, with light-green, lemon-scented leaves that grow on top of stalks.
The plant matures in four to eight months and you can harvest it once the stalks are about 1.5 cm thick. Lemongrass can be harvested every three to four months for up to four years. To harvest, cut the entire stalk at ground level below the white swollen ends and remove the outer woody layers and leaves. The older stalks should be harvested first to promote the growth of new stalks.
Choose lemongrass stalks that are firm, pale-green and bulbous at the base. Lemongrass should have a lemon smell. Avoid lemongrass stalks that are dried out or shrivelled.
How to store and keep lemongrass
Store lemongrass wrapped in plastic in the crisper section of your fridge. It will keep for up to two weeks when stored this way. Freeze lemongrass for up to six months by tightly wrapping it in foil.
How to use
- Raw – apples are a tasty and very easy snack. They are also a great addition to salads. Whip up an easy salad – toss sliced unpeeled apple with witlof leaves and toasted walnuts (or try pecans), then dress with lemon juice and serve.
- Juiced – apples are best eaten fresh but can be juiced
- Baked – for including in pies and tarts, peel, core and slice the apples. Place in an overproof dish with water
- Stewing - Slice the apples and place in a medium pan with some caster sugar and water. Cover the pan and put on a medium heat and let it come to the boil. Cook for about 5 minutes. Stir occasionally, cooking for a further 2 minutes or until the apple is fluffy but a few chunks are still visible.
- Try Bircher muesli for a delicious breakfast – mix rolled oats, a little honey, water, lemon juice, unpeeled grated apple and chopped nuts, leave overnight, then serve with yogurt and berries.
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Better Health Channel
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