The other day, having a salad in an Asian restaurant, I saw that its ingredients included the lemon grass, lemongrass, or citronella. This detail made me curious to know a little more about its history and uses in the kitchen, because its citrus flavor but at the same time bittersweet, completely conquered me.
Lemon grass originates from India and is widely used in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine. It’s actually a perennial grass, which means that once planted, the grass grows back year after year. Its external shape is similar to a tender leek or garlic but much harder, and the bulb is used for consumption as well as about five centimeters of the peeled stems. It grows spontaneously in many places in Asia, Africa and America, although it is generally cultivated, both for culinary and medicinal use.
How do you prepare
For its preparation we have to peel off outer layers, quite hard by the way, until reaching the inner white stem or nucleus. The leaves from the outside can be dried to be used in infusion or added to flavor in bamboo steamers, when cooking fish and vegetables, although they would have to be discarded later.
To extract all the flavor of the lemon grass, we recommend the trick of hitting the bulb before chopping it with the non-cutting part of a knife, as we often do with garlic cloves.
The use of lemon grass in Western cuisine is not new, although it is becoming more and more frequent due to the use that it is given by great chefs, who begin to add it regularly in many of their recipes.
With its citrus flavor but at the same time a little spicy, it should be used in small quantities and is mainly added in dishes of thai and vietnamese cuisine to dress soups, stews, salads, sauces and marinades. But it is also common to see it associated in oriental cuisine with ginger, garlic, coriander and added to fish and shellfish, providing freshness to your dishes and subtle flavors if used in the right proportions.
The dried leaves are used to make infusion of lemon tea. Infusion to which medicinal properties are attributed such as being digestive, analgesic, expectorant and antipyretic among many other characteristics. And its use is even spreading to flavor combinations such as gin and tonic.
Buy and store
It is increasingly common to find lemon grass in Asian and Latino grocery stores, as it is also widely used in Caribbean cuisine. Even so, it is still not a very widespread ingredient in our country and depending on the provinces it can be more or less difficult to find it.
If you are lucky enough to find it coolIt usually comes in packages of two or three bulbs, select those that do not look dry or brittle. The fresh stems can then be stored tightly wrapped in plastic wrap for two weeks in the refrigerator. But, if you are not going to consume them quickly, it is better to clean them, wash them and freeze them already cut, for a maximum time of six months so that they do not lose their flavor.
It is also possible to find it in preserve or dry in powderIf so, you have to know that the dry product has to be soaked in hot water and reconstituted before use. But although the powdered variety is useful for preparing tea and curries, it will not be a good substitute for the fresh product, so to obtain the best results in your recipes, try to buy it natural. In addition, it can also be part of your garden, whether it is traditional or urban in a pot, from seeds planted from January to March.
But if it is still impossible for you to find lemon grass and you want to prepare Asian cuisine as closely as possible to how the recipe tells you, could be replaced for lemon verbena or make a combination of lemon or lime zest with ginger. It will not be the same, but it will bring you closer to the bittersweet and spicy flavor of lemongrass.
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