Spice Tracks: Organic Lemon Grass
Posted by Dinesh Perera on September 13, 2014 (1 Comment)
We are tracking organic lemon grass, an ingredient popularized in the West by the introduction of Thai cuisine. It is, as the name implies, in the grass family. There are mainly two types of lemon grass, one referred to as Indian lemon grass and the other, West Indian. Both are used interchangeably, but the type favored for culinary use is the West Indian variety. Despite the name, West Indian lemon grass is native to maritime Southeast Asia. In Sri Lanka, this type of lemon grass is known as sera.
If you are fan of Thai cuisine, that familiar citrus flavor is due to the inclusion of this ingredient in dishes such as Tom Yum soup and a host of stir-fry recipes in which the main ingredient is beef, chicken, pork, or shrimp. Yes, you name a Thai stir-fry and it contains lemon grass.
Organic lemon grass is available in three different forms to the consumer in the US. Most grocery stores carry the whole stem. If you find this to be dry, place it in a container of cold water, which will bring it back to life within 10 minutes. You will also find lemon grass available in the freezer section of most Oriental/Asian markets, in chopped and frozen form. Finally, there is the powdered and T-cut version, where the dried ingredients should be soaked in warm water prior to cooking. The very best way to extract the flavor of whole lemon grass is to first cut off about an inch below the area where the course grass blades appear at the top of the stem and the first 1 ½ inches from the base of the stem. Then cut the remaining usable part in two. Proceed as follows: For use in soup, lightly pound the stems with a pestle or similar object to break the cell walls and release the essential oils which will impart that distinguishable aroma and flavor. If you intend to prepare a stir-fry, I would forgo the previous step, but thinly slice the stems before cooking.
If you have not used lemon grass in your kitchen before, here is a simple suggestion for you: Make a Sri Lankan Chicken Curry . If you are able to find fresh organic lemon grass stalks at your grocer, prepare as described above and use it instead of the 2 teaspoons dried T-cut lemon grass that is called for in the recipe. You will find the flavor profile of this simple ingredient very pleasing to your palate!