Lemongrass is a reedy, perennial grass that grows year-round in mild climates. It is frequently used in many Asian cuisines, most notably those of Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.
As the name implies, lemongrass has a mild and fragrant lemony flavor. This comes from a component called citral that makes up a good portion of the plant's oils. Citral is also found in the oil of regular lemons, and lemon zest or juice can be used as substitute for lemongrass, but the flavor is decidedly different.
How To Buy & Prepare Lemongrass
The outer stalk of lemongrass is too woody to be eaten, but the bulbous inner core from the lower portion of the plant can be prepared in a number of ways.
Lemongrass is best purchased fresh, in bunches. To prepare, trim away the reedy upper portion of the stalks and peel the tough outer layers from the thicker bottom section.
The remaining inner core (around 1/2″ in diameter) can then be sliced, chopped, smashed, or pounded into a paste, depending on how you plan to use it.
Smashing lemongrass breaks the fibers of the plant and releases the fragrant oils. This method of prep works well for soups and slow simmered dishes.
Pounding into a paste using a mortar and pestle is the preferred method when making curries. Thin slicing is best for salads, and a fine chop lends itself well to stir fry dishes.
Lemongrass can be found in Asian grocery stores and in some supermarket chains. Don't hesitate to purchase extra when you find it as lemongrass freezes rather well. Just cut the usable portion into 3 or 4 inch lengths, wrap it tightly and place in the coldest part of your freezer for later use.