Lemongrass is one of the most important ingredients when flavoring Thai and Asian dishes. Lemongrass is a herb with long, thin green leaves and a woody base. It’s the woody base that is used in Thai cooking. In Thailand, lemongrass can be found just about anywhere. It grows wild on the side of the expressway or in many backyards or just about anywhere. Often times you will see locals harvesting the lemongrass to sell at the local markets. In addition to finding this fragrant herb roadside, it can be found in any dalaat (outdoor market) or in the western grocery stores.
I have to say I am fortunate to live in the Bay Area where Asian markets are close by and it is no large task to find any Asian ingredient. You can find lemongrass at your local Safeway but I would steer away from it, as most Westerner’s are not familiar with it and it will often times sit on the shelves for long periods of time. Buy from the Asian or specialty markets in its natural form. It can be frozen or stored in the fridge (tightly wrapped in plastic for up to 2 weeks).
Lemongrass is used in such Thai dishes like Tom Ka Gai (pronounced Tom Ga Guy) and Larp Muu, a popular pork salad with herbs. The essential oils found in the peel gives lemongrass its famous sour-lemon flavoring and fragrance.
When using the lemongrass, trim the root off from the bottom of the stalk. Inside the lemongrass rings are a purple color and this is the main part to use in Thai cooking. As you slice the lemongrass use only the part until the color turns pale. This is the best part of the lemongrass with the most intense flavor.
But don’t wast the rest of the stalk! The remaining part of the stalk can be used to make delicious lemongrass tea – just bruise the remaining stalk with the back of your knife, pour boiling water over the stalk and steep for delicious hot lemongrass tea. You can chill the lemongrass tea to make the most refreshing lemongrass water!
Lemongrass also possesses citral, a natural mosquito repellant. While living in Thailand, I would bruise a stalk of lemongrass and rub it on my arms and legs…I was not bitten by mosquitoes!
Cheers and happy eating!