Lemon Grass, One of the Newer Herbs
Native to southern India and Sri Lanka, lemon grass is grown cultivated commercially in Guatemala, India, the People’s Republic of China, Paraguay, England, Sri Lanka, and other parts of Indochina, Africa, Central America, and South America. It is a most recent addition to modern cuisine. The young white stem and leaf base are chopped and used in stir fry dishes and in Thai, Malaysian and Southeast Asian cuisine.
It has a citrus flavor. The stalk itself is too hard to be eaten except for the soft inner part. However, it can be finely sliced and added to recipes. It may also be bruised and added whole as this releases the aromatic oils from the juice sacs in the stalk.
The fresh taste of lemon grass is typical for Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka. The spice is most popular in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and on the Indonesian islands. In Thailand, finely ground fresh lemon grass is added to curry pastes. Its fine fragrance goes well with poultry, fish and sea food. Vietnamese cookery, being much less spiced than many of its neighbors, makes use of lemon grass in several ways. A popular Vietnamese meal is bo nhung dam, translated as “vinegar beef” or “Vietnamese fondue”. At the table, each person boils thin slices of beef in a vinegar flavored broth containing a large amount of lemon grass. The beef, along with fresh vegetables and the herbs coriander, mint and Vietnamese coriander (a member of the buckwheat family), is wrapped in rice paper and eaten with spicy sauces based on fish sauce, lime juice, peanuts and chilies. This recipe is a good example of the Vietnamese preference for communal foods (prepared together at the table), for wrapped bits of food and for fresh herbs. Lemon grass is also used for Vietnamese curries. In Indonesia, the term bumbu refers to mixtures of ground fresh spices, whose composition is unique for every single dish but always containing lemon grass. Lemon grass is also used in herbal teas and other nonalcoholic beverages in baked goods, and in confections.
For the American cuisine use it in chicken and seafood dishes, curries, casseroles, soups, and stews. Ground stalks can be added directly to dishes. It can be frozen, dried, or used fresh.
If you are out of lemon grass you can try arugula and lemon zest.