Sep 4, 2014


5 foot tall lemongrass plants from my garden
If you have ever eaten in a Thai restaurant, then you have probably had lemongrass. Lemongrass is a stalky plant with a lemony scent that grows in many tropical climates, including Hawaii. Lemongrass can sometimes be purchased on Moloka'i at our Saturday Farmers Market, Kumu Farms, and at Friendly Market.

Lemongrass is native to India but has often been used as a herb in Southeast-Asian cuisines. The base of each lemongrass stalk is usually crushed to release its nice lemony aroma that adds fragrance to foods. It can be used to prepare soups, broths, curries, sauces, tea, as well as cut into thin slices and added to a variety of salads.

When purchasing lemongrass, look for firm stalks (not soft or rubbery, which means it's too old). Lower stalk should be pale yellow (almost white) in color, while upper stalks are green (do not purchase if outer leaves are crusty or brown). 

There are two main ways to cook with lemongrass, and each determines how you handle it. To infuse teas, broths, soups, and braising liquids, trim off the spiky tops and the bases, crush the stalks with the side of a knife to release their aromatic oils, and then cut them into 1- or 2-inch pieces. Remove the pieces before eating (they tend to be woody) or eat around them.

To use lemongrass in marinades, stir-fries, salads, spice rubs, and curry pastes, trim the top and base of the stalks—you want to use only the bottom 4 inches or so. Then peel off any dry or tough outer layers before finely chopping or mincing. Lemongrass holds up to long cooking and gains intensity the longer it’s cooked. If you’d like a strong lemongrass flavor, add minced lemongrass at the start of cooking, browning it along with the other aromatics. For a lighter, fresher lemongrass flavor, add it near the end of cooking. Look for fresh lemongrass at your local grocery store, Asian market, or farmers market.

To store lemongrass, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for two to three weeks, or freeze for up to six months. It's easy to root leftover lemongrass and grow it in your own garden. Simply make a fresh cut at the base, keeping the stubby part of the stalk intact and place it in a glass of water. In 2 weeks you will begin to see roots and new shoots growing. Lemongrass will spread like mint, so you might want to grow it in a large pot.

Not many know that lemongrass also has medicinal properties - it is a good source of vitamins A and C, folate, magnesium, zinc, copper, iron, potassium, phosphorus, calcium and manganese; with minute traces of the B vitamins. From the leaves and stems, citronella oil is obtained for making insect repellent, soap, perfumery and flavorings. Lemongrass is definitely becoming a "grass roots movement".

Lemongrass Recipes:

Lemongrass and Ginger Iced Tea
Lemongrass medicinal properties adds to the health giving properties of green tea. Ginger and lemongrass have a warming effect on the body, which makes this combination of ingredients a delicious tea for a cold winter's night, or add ice for a delicious refreshment to take to the beach on a hot day.

3 stalks lemongrass, white parts only
1 small knob ginger, sliced
6 cups water
1/3 cup sugar, plus more to taste
2 cups brewed black, or green tea

With the blunt edge of a knife, smash the lemongrass stalks until lightly bruised, then thinly slice (bruising helps release the lemongrass "juices".) Slice ginger knob. Add lemongrass and ginger to a medium-sized pot of water and bring water to boil. Simmer for 10 minutes, then turn off heat. Stir in sugar. Let liquid sit in the pot, covered, for another 20 minutes. Strain lemongrass-ginger syrup. 

In glasses, stir together one-half lemongrass-ginger syrup with one-half brewed tea. Add ice and serve. Makes 4 drinks.

Hot & Sour Lemongrass Shrimp Soup
1 pound sweet shrimp, with peelings
4 cups chicken stock
3 stalks lemongrass
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1/4 cup lime juice (remove the rind of one of them, see below)
2 tablespoons chopped green onion
5 strips of lime rind, green part only
1/2 cup re-hydrated, dried black tree ear mushrooms, cut into thin strips
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon chili oil, or to taste
2 green onions, chopped for garnish

Shell and devein the prawns, reserving the shells. Rinse the shells and place them in a large saucepan with the chicken stock. Remove the hard end and outer layer of the lemongrass stalk. Bruise the white ends of your stalks with the blunt edge of a large knife (it helps release the lemongrass “juices”), then add them to the broth along with the strips of lime rind. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, and simmer gently until the lemon grass changes color, and the stock becomes fragrant, about 5 minutes. Strain the stock and return to the saucepan. Discard the solids.

Return the stock to a simmer, and add the mushrooms and prawns. Cook until the prawns are pink. Stir in the fish sauce, lime juice, 2 tablespoons green onion, cilantro, and chili oil. Taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary. The soup should be sour, salty, spicy and hot. Garnish with remaining green onions. Serve with white rice on the side. Makes 4 servings.

Hot & Sour Lemongrass Prawns 
with Roasted Garlic
2 heads garlic, yes heads!
6 shallots
3 stalks lemon grass
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons Sriracha sauce
2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails left on
1/4 cup canola oil
4-5 tablespoons Thai fish sauce, to taste
1-2 tablespoons light brown sugar, to taste
Juice of 2-3 limes, to taste
1/4 cup short cilantro sprigs for garnish

Break one of the heads of garlic into individual cloves. Cut the root tip off each clove, leaving the skin on. Do likewise with 3 of the shallots. Place them together on a tray and roast in a hot oven (450°F) until softened – about 10 minutes for garlic, 15-20 minutes for shallots. (Cutting the tip keeps the garlic and shallots from popping and splattering the oven.) Chop the other head of garlic and 3 shallots and set aside.

Trim off and discard the woody bottom tip of the lemon grass stalks. Remove one or two layers of the more fibrous outer leaves. Cut the remaining inner stalk into thin rounds, then chop coarsely. Set aside in a covered bowl to prevent drying out.

When the roasted garlic and shallots are ready, peel off their skin and mash them in a mortar and pestle together with the Sriracha sauce to form a well-blended paste. Set aside.

Heat a wok over high heat until it is smoking hot. Swirl in 3 tablespoons of oil to coat wok surface and wait 15-20 seconds for it to heat. Toss in the prawns and sear them in the hot wok for 1-2 minutes. When they have turned pink, remove from wok. Add another 2-3 tablespoons of oil and heat 15-20 seconds. Sauté the chopped garlic and shallots in it for 15-20 seconds before adding the Sriracha paste. Sauté a short while longer, then stir in the chopped lemon grass. Stir-fry another half to one minute.

When the mixture is well-blended and fragrant with the herbs, season to taste with fish sauce, light brown sugar and lime juice. Reduce liquid so that the mixture is thick and almost dry. Toss the prawns back in and stir-fry with the lemon grass mixture for 1-2 minutes, or until they are just cooked through. Transfer to a serving platter and garnish top with cilantro. Serve with Jasmine Rice Scented with Lemongrass (see recipe below), and Thai Cucumber Salad with Peanuts. Makes 8 servings.

Grilled Ehu with Lemongrass and Ginger
Ehu is a beautiful red colored fish that is caught in deep water here in Hawaii. It is also known as the Short Tail Red Snapper. If you can't find ehu, use red snapper instead.

1 medium sized fresh whole ehu (2 pounds), cleaned
1/2 cup lemongrass blend (recipe below)
2 tablespoons of canola oil
3 spring onions, thinly julienne
A small bunch of fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
1 small lime, halved

Take your cleaned and prepared whole ehu, rinse and pat it dry with paper towels, cut 3 deep slashes into the thickest part of the fish on both sides.

Spread the lemongrass blend over both sides of the fish, pressing some into the slashes, cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile heat your barbecue or grill until fairly hot, brush with 1 tablespoon of the canola oil and place the fish on the grill to cook for around 5 minutes each side or until the flesh is just cooked through all the way to the back bone and flakes away easily.

Place the cooked fish onto a serving platter.

In a small pan to the side, quickly fry the spring onions with the remaining oil, pour over the cooked fish, sprinkle with fresh cilantro and lime wedges.

Serve with steamed jasmine rice, and a crisp salad. Makes 2 servings.

Lemongrass Blend
I call this Lemongrass Blend because it is a blend of flavors that can be added to a number of other recipes. Try this spread on tuna and other kinds of lean fish, or blend it with a little more vegetable oil and use as the base for chicken or vegetable stir-fries. You can also rub it onto chicken, seafood, pork and beef, or stir it into ground pork or turkey for meatballs, meat loaf or burgers. It makes a great burger or crab cake topping (aioli) by adding 1 tablespoon of this blend to 1/4 cup of mayonnaise and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

2 stalks of fresh lemongrass, the bottom 5 inches of the inner bulb only, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped fresh ginger
1 garlic clove
1 medium jalapeño, halved
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons cilantro leaves
Salt to taste

In a food processor, combine the sliced lemongrass with the fresh ginger, garlic and halved jalapeño and pulse until finely chopped. Add the vegetable oil and process to a coarse paste. Add the cilantro leaves and process until fairly smooth. Season the lemongrass blend generously with salt. Makes about 1/2 cup.

Note: You can make this blend ahead of time and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Grilled Ginger-Lemongrass Shrimp
24 large shrimp, peeled and de-veined with the tails left on
1 tablespoon chopped lemongrass
1 tablespoon chopped ginger
2 cloves chopped garlic
1/4 cup Tamari sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon honey
Canola oil, for drizzling
juice of 2 fresh limes
bunch of watercress

Preheat the grill to high.

In a large, nonreactive bowl, combine the lemongrass, ginger, garlic, scallion greens, Tamari sauce, sesame oil, and honey and whisk well. Add the shrimp and toss to coat. Marinate in the refrigerator for 15 to 30 minutes.

Skewer 4 to 6 shrimp onto skewers. Place the skewers on a flat plate and drizzle with canola oil. It is not necessary to salt the skewers because tamari sauce has so much salt in it. Place the shrimp skewers on the grill and cook about 3 minutes per side, or just until the shrimp curls, turns red and does not appear clear at all. Be careful not to overcook. Remove the skewers from the grill and place on the bed of watercress. Squeeze the juice of a lime over the shrimp and watercress. Serve with lemongrass rice (recipe below), sprinkled with chopped cilantro or green onion. Makes 4 servings.

Note: if using wooden skewers, be sure to soak them in water for at least 30 minutes before placing on the grill.

Lemongrass Chicken Wings
1 stalk lemongrass
2 1/2 pounds chicken, tips removed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1/4 cup fish sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1 handful peanuts, chopped
Chopped cilantro (optional)

Remove the hard end and outer layer of the lemongrass stalk. Bruise the white ends of your stalks with the blunt edge of a large knife (it helps release the lemongrass “juices”), then thinly slice and mince. You should end up with about 1 tablespoon of minced lemongrass. Discard the green tops.

Marinate the chicken: In a small bowl, combine the lemongrass, garlic, shallot, ginger, fish sauce, lime juice, peanut oil, brown sugar and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Place the chicken wings into a large resealable freezer bag and pour the marinade over the wings. Close the freezer bag and shake so that the chicken is well-coated with marinade. Refrigerate for 4 hours, or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Stir together the honey and soy sauce and set aside. Line a large sheet tray with foil or parchment paper. Place the wings on the tray and roast for 30 minutes, basting the wings with the honey-soy mixture once about half-way through and once close to the end of the roasting time.

Serve hot wings on top of a pile of lemongrass rice (recipe below), sprinkled with chopped peanuts and cilantro. Makes 4 servings.

Jasmine Rice Scented with Lemongrass
I love Thai food. This is a Thai recipe that imparts the lemony scent of the lemongrass into jasmine rice.

1 cup of jasmine rice, rinsed
1 stalk of lemongrass, outer leaves removed, cut into 3 to 4 pieces
2 cups of water
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil (optional)
cilantro, chopped, for garnish

Rinse the rice in cold water several times to remove as much starch (milky water) in the rice as possible for about 15 minutes. Wash the upper end of the lemongrass stems, saving the lower 3 or 4 inches of the stem for another recipe. Split the upper part of the stem in half and split again so you end up with several pieces that will fit in your pot. Put rice into a pot and add lemon grass on top. Then add 2 cups of water, and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and allow to cook for 15 minutes or until all of the water is absorbed - the rice should be tender and slightly sticky. Season with more sea salt, if desired, leave it alone, covered, for about 5-10 minutes. Discard the lemongrass pieces, then fluff lightly with a fork before serving, garnished with chopped cilantro. Makes 2 large servings.

Lemongrass Ice Cream
4 thick or 8 thin lemongrass stalks
3/4 cup sugar, divided
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
2 large eggs

Equipment: an ice cream maker

Trim root ends from lemongrass and discard 1 or 2 outer layers. Coarsely chop enough of bottom 6 inches of each stalk to measure 3/4 cup, then finely chop in food processor with 1/4 cup sugar. Transfer to a heavy medium saucepan and stir in milk, cream, and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, then remove from heat and let stand, covered, 30 minutes.

Whisk together eggs and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl, then whisk in lemongrass mixture. Return mixture to saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until custard registers 175°F on an instant-read thermometer (do not let boil).

Immediately strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a metal bowl, pressing on and then discarding solids. Chill custard until cold, at least 4 hours'

Freeze custard in ice cream maker, then transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to firm up, about 1 hour. Makes 1 quart'

Note: Custard can be chilled up to 24 hours. Ice cream keeps 1 week.

Pineapple Lemongrass Sourtini
Set up your tastebuds with this luscious sourtini before your next tropical dinner.

2 cups pineapple juice
8 stalks fresh lemongrass, 6 coarsely chopped and 2 halved crosswise
4 small fresh pineapple wedges
Crushed ice
1 cup Absolut Citron vodka
1/4 cup fresh lime juice

In a medium saucepan, simmer the pineapple juice with the chopped lemongrass over moderate heat for 15 minutes; let cool. Strain the pineapple juice into a jar and chill.

Spear the pineapple wedges with the lemongrass stalks. Fill a pitcher with ice and add the pineapple juice, vodka and lime juice. Strain into chilled martini glasses and garnish with the pineapple. Makes 4 drinks.

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