|Lemongrass ~ 2 fresh stalks - cut and dried - powdered|
The stalks can be found fresh at most supermarkets; (Thrifty Foods, Superstore etc) and Asian Markets. When choosing lemongrass, look for stalks that are firm, full and pale green... the pale color indicates freshness. The bottom of the stalk may be woody, but it should not be shriveled or moldy. Bend the stalk and smell it. Choose a moist, fragrant one.
To grow, sow lemongrass seeds indoors in late winter using bottom heat or a seedling heat mat. Maintain moist conditions and a temperature around 21°C (70°F), and the seeds will germinate in 5 to 21 days. Be sure to use sterilized seed starting mix, and a clear dome over your seedling tray to maintain moisture. Transplant outdoors or into containers in full sun once the weather has warmed up in early summer. At the end of summer move container plants into a frost free environment with good air circulation. Reduce watering to almost none, making the soil barely moist once a week. It may take a while for your home-grown plant to get as big as the stalks you find in the supermarket.
To prepare fresh lemongrass for your recipes; wash it thoroughly, remove any loose, tough outer leaves and trim the ends. You'll need a sharp knife, as the stalks are very fibrous. Clean, garden pruning shears are a great tool for this! Use the heart of the stalk... the bottom four to eight inches up to the point where the leaves branch out. Because of its tough texture, lemongrass is usually added to recipes whole, then removed and discarded before serving, much like a Bay leaf. The center portion can be eaten if it's finely chopped. Either use whole pieces, crushed slightly under the back of your cleaver, or slice sections very thinly in cross section. It's important to crush it before you chop or slice it, this gets the oil out.
Store fresh stalks in the fridge wrapped in a paper bag, lemongrass grass stems can last 2 to 3 weeks in the refrigerator. The stems can also be frozen for several months. To dry the stalks or leaves, cut them into pieces while the plant is still fresh, as they can become crumbly and difficult to cut when dry. Separate the leaves from the stalks, and lay them on paper towels or on a screen in a dry area out of direct sun. When completely dry, store in a jar in a cool, dark place.
What to do if you can't find fresh lemongrass? Substitute 1 tablespoon of cut and dried lemongrass for each fresh stalk. It is advisable to soak dried sliced lemon grass for two hours before using. If dried isn't available, try several strips of lemon peel per stalk... the effect won't be quite the same, since lemongrass has a more subtle, delicate flavor than lemons or limes. The zest from one lemon is equal to two stalks of lemongrass. You can also use lemon zest along with something else that can replicate lemongrass's herbal notes. For example, you can use arugula to provide this aspect of the lemongrass flavor. Coriander stalks have more flavor and should be used instead of the leaves. This substitute is best used in soups and broths. Other substitutes: lemon verbena or lemon balm or lemon leaves. When using the ground powder use one teaspoon as an equal to one stalk of fresh.
For an introduction recipe using lemongrass, check out my 'Thai Sweet Potato Soup' ...kefir lime leaves can also be purchased fresh at Edible Island and Thrifty Foods. The excess leaves can then be dried and stored like Bay Leaves.
Till next time... Bon Appétit!
Photos by Sally Rae