When I think of lemongrass, I think of Asian inspired food, especially Thai food. Lemongrass is an important ingredient to Southeast Asian cooking as basil is to Italian cuisine. It is a perennial plant native to tropical regions which belongs to the grass family. It grows in clusters producing globular stems that eventually turn into broad leaf blades. Under ideal tropical conditions, lemongrass can grow to up to 6 feet and in the less tropical climate in can grow to about 3 feet. Even though this is not your typical grass that grows into a lawn, it can be planted to add a lovely accent in your garden as a border plant or in a garden bed along with other herbs.
In culinary use, the stalks are too tough to eat, so they are chopped, pounded and then added to fish or poultry sauces, and stir fries for its heavenly, lemony flavor. It can be dried and powdered, or used fresh. Chinese, Indonesian and Malaysian cooks use the dehydrated lemongrass leaves when preparing marinades for meat and fish. Lemongrass combines extremely well with chile peppers, coconut,garlic,ginger, and shallots.
Because of the global popularity of Thai food, lemongrass has fast become a very wanted plant especially due to its multi-purposes. The aromatic lemongrass is not only great as a flavoring agent its also used in herbal medications and for making essential oils, soaps, and hair products. Back in Ancient Egypt, Greek and Roman times, lemongrass was used as a cosmetic plant, an insect repellant and for many medical purposes.
The most used parts of lemongrass are the lower stalks. This plant is usually sold with the leaves and upper stalks removed. When you buy it, choose the ones that are firm and light, and greenish-yellow, appearing fresh and not wilting like the walking dead. You can store your lemongrass for up to several weeks in the fridge.
When you are ready to cook with your lemongrass, I suggest using 1 inch to 2 inches of the trimmed bottom stalk at a time. Add them to stews, soups, and sauces and remove them after you achieve the flavor you want. If you want to mince the lemongrass, I suggest using the bottom few inches where it is the tenderest, and you wont get the woody bits in your dish. Or just add our freshly powdered lemongrass which is easier and without the grassy bits. A little reminder: however you use lemongrass,the longer it steeps in the cooking process, the more intense the flavor will become. I think it is best to add it towards the end of your cooking.
If you fancy an aromatic and soothing tea, try steeping a few bits of dried lemongrass in a cup of hot water, and enjoy a clean palate and an uplifting feeling.