By Barbara Porsch—Herb Enthusiast
Lemongrass, cybopogon citratus, a tender perennial, is an aromatic clump grass with bulbous stems with a growth pattern similar to pampas grass. The foliage is strongly lemon scented and can be utilized as well as the white slender bulb close to the base. In fact, lemongrass is related to citronella and also repels mosquitoes, flies and fleas. Known as xa in Vietnam, ta krai in Thailand and sereh in Indonesia, lemongrass is a staple ingredient in Southwest Asian cuisine. In South and Central America where it is known as limoncillo, it is used principally to make a beverage. Here it needs to be planted in a protected sunny location with ample irrigation but needs excellent drainage. It can be planted in a large pot and then protected in the winter. Mine is in the ground in a raised bed on the south side of the house where it gets warmth from the brick wall. I usually harvest the bulbous stalks, cutting the plant back severely, and then cover with good mulch for protection. It is a roll of the dice because it usually dies back to the ground. Once it died totally and once it never lost its foliage. But then we live in west Texas. Here is fair warning. When working with Lemongrass, the blades can be rubbed in an upward direction, but never downward!! The harvested bulbs can be stored in a mason jar in the freezer with no loss in flavor. Lemongrass can be used in teas and stir fried dishes, used to make vinegar or chopped for salads and oriental or Mexican dishes. Use fresh to flavor fish, soups, curries, pickles and sauces. To make a refreshing tea, pour boiling water over chopped leaves and steep for several minutes. Sweeten with honey. A basic use of lemongrass is in making soups especially those with a rich chicken stock base. Then adding coconut milk makes it sublime. Here is Tom Yum Goong or Tom Yum Gai. (It would be shameless for me to put a plug in for my favorite Thai restaurant in Midland.) It is spectacular added to soups made with fish stock. Put a piece of white stalk on a board and then pound lightly with a mallet or rolling pin to release the flavors before adding to the stock. Remove before serving. Stuff a fish or chicken to roast. Add to a peanut sauce for either a salad or pasta. Make a simple sugar syrup infused with Lemongrass to pour over fruit or a dessert like custard. Think delicious flan. You should get the picture by now. We plan to have Lemongrass for sale at the plant sale next year. Plan on getting some.