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
- Try a flavoursome chicken dish – cook chicken pieces in a mixture of finely chopped sliced ginger, chopped lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and red chilli, then add reduced fat coconut milk and fish sauce, stir through spinach leaves, top with coriander leaves and serve with steamed jasmine rice.
- Make an easy dipping sauce – finely chop a lemongrass stalk and combine with red chillies, then stir through mayonnaise and serve with prawns or other seafood.
- Prepare a fresh salad – finely slice lemongrass and combine with Asian salad greens, coriander leaves, chopped mint leaves and shredded chicken, then dress with lime juice, brown sugar, chopped red chilli and fish sauce.
- Serve an impressive entrée – boil stock, orange juice, white wine, chopped onion, minced garlic and chopped lemongrass, then reduce the heat and poach skinless salmon pieces until flaky and tender and enjoy with rice and a green leaf salad.
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Better Health Channel
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