Good Question: What Is Lemongrass?

published Oct 23, 2008
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Here’s a good question from reader Linda. She asks:

I’ve been reading a lot of soup & soul food recipes lately, with the weather cooling, and am coming across many that call for fresh and “bruised” lemongrass. I have never worked with this ingredient before and know nothing about cooking with it. I assume I can find it in Chinatown somewhere… I was hoping you could help me out.

Thank you in advance.

Linda, lemongrass is a type of grass grown and used widely in many tropical regions. It’s very common in the Thai and Vietnamese cuisines. It has a mild citrus flavor – hence the name. It’s usually used as an herb and flavoring in curries, soups, and curry pastes. It’s also popular for tea – we just had a cup of delicate, lemony lemongrass tea last night, in fact!

Each stalk of lemongrass has several layers, each growing tightly wrapped around its core. The top layers are tough and green; they rather feel like a corn husk’s outer layer. When peeled away you find the inner white core of the lemongrass stalk. It’s also very tough and difficult to cut, but not nearly so much as the outer layers.

Lemongrass can easily be found at almost any Asian grocery. Some Latino groceries will also carry it, since it crops up in a lot of Caribbean cuisine as well. It’s usually sold in bundles of two or three stalks.

It also grows wild in many southern states; my neighbor in Florida had an enormous lemongrass plant in her front yard. It just looks like an ornamental grass bush. Here’s a short piece on growing your own lemongrass:

• Good Tip: Growing Lemongrass

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

When cooking with lemongrass it’s usually best to remove all the outer layers, leaving just the tender white inner stalk. You can chop the stalk, as seen above, or leave it whole. It just depends on the recipe. Many recipes call for bruising the lemongrass to help release the flavor.

What are you planning on making with your lemongrass when you find it?

(Images: Flickr member chotda and Flickr member quintanaroo, both licensed for use under Creative Commons)