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Lemongrass: Kitchen Basics

Lemon grass sliced1

The stalks of lemongrass are commonly used in the kitchen. Lemongrass is a subtropical plant. Lemongrass is flavorful fresh rather than dry. It is popular in Southeast Asian cookery. It can be used to season soups, vegetables, curries, poultry, shellfish, fish, and marinades. Use lemongrass to make herbal teas.

Lemongrass is a member of the grass family that grows to nearly 3 feet (80 cm) tall. The stalks are yellowish-gray-green and look a bit like beach grass. The lower 8 inches of the stalks resemble a miniature leek, a tightly packed, cream-colored bulb.

The top part of the lemongrass–coarse, broad, and sometimes sharply edged leaves–are most often trimmed away and discarded since they are inedible.

How to Choose Lemongrass

  • Select lemongrass stems that are full, green, and not wilted or bruised. The bulb ends should be firm.
  • Trim away the leaves and keep the bottom 6 to 12 or so inches.

How to Store Lemongrass

  • Lemongrass will keep in the refrigerator, wrapped in foil or plastic for 2 weeks.
  • If you plan to use the stems soon, you can stand them upright in a glass of water.
  • Sliced lemongrass can be kept in a plastic bag in the freezer.

How to Prepare Lemongrass

  • Use only the tender part of the lower bulb portion of lemongrass.
  • Peel the tough leaves or layers away to get to the tender part of the inner core. This part can be finely sliced crosswise like scallion and added raw to salads or soups.
  • The outer layer and upper portion of the stems are stringy and not edible, but can be used to flavor stocks, sauces, soups, stews, fish, poultry, and herbal tea; discard after use.
  • Pound the leaves just before cooking to release the volatile oils.

How to Serve Lemongrass

  • Only the tender part of the bottom third–a tightly packed bulb–of the lemongrass is edible. This part can be sliced or pounded after the tough outer leaves or layers are removed. Once the fibrous inner stem is finely, finely sliced, you can add it raw to salads. Bruised or pounded any part of the stem can be added to the cooking pan to release its fragrance.
  • For a distinct lemony flavor and fragrance, place two lemongrass stalks inside the cavity or underneath a fish or chicken and steam. To make the flavor and fragrance more potent, bruise or pound the stems with a pestle before steaming.
  • Lemongrass has the floral aroma of lemon and lime peel and fresh-cut grass. One stalk will impart a rich aroma to a quart of stock.
  • For a healthful tisane or herbal tea, bruise the top of two lemongrass stalks, combine with a quart of water, bring to a simmer, remove from heat, and cover for 15 minutes before straining and reheating or chilling and serving.
  • For a lemongrass seasoning paste for marinating fish, chicken, or pork: cut a lemongrass bulb and stem into 1-inch pieces and combine with a piece of fresh ginger peeled and cut up, 3 medium garlic cloves sliced, 2 medium shallots sliced, 1 or 2 medium chili peppers seeded and diced (choose pepper varieties according to your tolerance and taste), 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro stems, and salt to taste, combine these and chop fine in a processor or blender, add 2 tablespoons of corn oil and purée. Pour into a container and seal with 3 additional tablespoons of corn oil, cover, and refrigerate.
Lemongrass how to grow
Stalks of lemongrass

Lemongrass Flavor Partners

  • Match lemongrass with ginger, chile, coconut, garlic, shallots, and green peppers.

Lemongrass Nutrition

  • Lemongrass contains geraniol and citral which give it its lemony flavor and fragrance.

Lemongrass Facts and Trivia

  • Lemongrass is a perennial herb.
  • Lemongrass is native to Southeast Asia, probably Malaysia but can be grown wherever the climate remains moderately warm year-round.
  • A stalk of freshly cut lemongrass will root in water and grow in a sunny garden location with regular water.
  • Lemongrass is sometimes called “fever grass”, so named for its use in treating malaria in western Africa and Southeast Asia.
  • The botanical name Cymbopogon citrates.

Related articles of interest:

How to Grow Lemongrass

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. Harvesttotable.com has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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  1. The lemongrass leaves can still be boiled into a nice herbal tea (one of my favorites). You can also make the tea from the stalks but I prefer using the leaves since I actually have a plant that I harvest it from and the leaves grow back much quicker than the stalks. Both are great though.

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