You've heard of lemongrass, and you've probably tasted it, but do you know what the hell it is? Lemongrass is actually exactly what it sounds like: a grass-like herb that has a lemon flavor. There's a lot more to it than that, however.
Popular in Thai and Vietnamese cooking, lemongrass also works well in Western cooking -- its complex flavors can liven up a variety of dishes and are are also enhanced by many different spices and seasoning. Lemongrass's slightly sweet, pungent and lemony taste makes it great for spicy stews and curries, but it also works well in desserts and sodas and cocktails.
If you haven't explored the complex notes of lemongrass yet, or if you're an avid fan who just wants to learn more about this common but somewhat mysterious ingredient, here are nine things you should know. Read all about it and then check out the lemongrass recipes below.
It is tall a perennial grass, which means it comes back year after year. The plants can grow up to
three feet tall and wide.
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Responsible for 80 percent
of the world's lemongrass crop, India produces more lemongrass than any other country in the world -- by a long shot. It grows in the states of Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, as well as in the foot-hills of Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim.
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Three common varieties
are Cymbopogon citratus, Cymbopogon flexuosus and Cymbopogon nardus or C. winterianus. Cymbopogon citratus, which has a large bulb similar to a scallion, is often found in Thai cooking. Cymbopogon flexuosus, also called Cochin Grass or Malabar Grass, is native to India, Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand and also used in cooking. Cymbopogon nardus is mostly cultivated for oil.
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It is a versatile herb that can lighten meat- and oil-heavy dishes
with its lemony, pungent flavor. To use it for flavoring
, you can dry it and then pound the stalks to release fragrant oil. You can then use the stalk as you would an herb to season meat or fish when cooking, placing the stalk in or around the meat or fish in roasts. You can also simmer the stalks for soups or tea. If you want to eat fresh lemongrass, slice the central core into thin pieces, and make sure you don't slice too thick, because lemongrass can be very woody. You can toss slices into salads or stir fries, or puree into a seasoning paste.
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It can also be used in soaps, detergents, candles and for aromatherapy. It can also be used to repel insects -- ordinarily the form of citronella oil.
Citronella oil, which is used as an insect repellant, is derived from the leaves and stems of different species of lemongrass. It's often used in a candle to ward away mosquitoes.
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Look for firm and heavy stalks with no bruising and larger bulbs. The heavier stalks mean they have retained moisture; avoid the lighter ones because they have likely dried out. You can store lemongrass
stalks in your refrigerator for for up to three weeks.
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