Sunday, August 31, 2014

Lemon Grass

Thai soups are frequently on the menu at our home, and lemon grass is the key to adding that hint of citrus so characteristic of their flavor. Lemon grass is also used in teas to add a bit of citrus taste. I first grew it at my previous home. When I found it at the nursery it was a tidy small thing in a 4 inch pot. Not knowing any better, I assumed it would grow to be about a foot tall so I planted it in the vegetable garden. It grew and grew. It got taller and wider. It was a beast, finally reaching at least 4 ft high and wide. 

Although I love lemon grass, in this garden I didn't want to commit that much space to one. This time I planted the lemon grass in a 12 inch pot. Being confined in the pot has kept it controlled. We have enough of the herb for our use, and it looks pretty at the back of the garden between the blueberry barrels.
As you can see, I'm clearing my beds in preparation for fall planting. 
It is a nice focal point, being a symmetric arching plant. Here it is both ornamental and delicious without being obtrusive.
While we're looking, isn't it amazing that the bower vine is still blooming? It has been in bloom since March. Read about it here.

Back to the lemon grass. I live in Southern California, zone 10. Lemon grass can be grown outside in zones 9 and higher. For cooler climates it can be grown indoors in a sunny location. The edible part is the base of the stalk which is thickened like a scallion. Propagation is through root cuttings. You can purchase lemon grass stalks sometimes in the grocery store. To propagate it, remove about 2 inches from the top and place the root end in a container of water. Place this in a sunny location and roots will sprout in a couple of weeks. Once the roots have reached 1-2 inches, it can be planted in the soil.

To harvest the stalks for cooking, I use my clippers and cut the stalks near the soil. 
Clearly I haven't pruned away the dead growth so it's a mess up close.
I peel the outer layer off then slice it diagonally into 1-2 inch stalks. Letting the pieces steep in the soup releases the citrus flavor. Because it is a woody grass, it is not eaten but rather it is discarded before serving.

Being vegan, I love coconut-based soup with vegetables and herbs. I don't have a recipe, but this is how I make my simple soup.

Thai Vegetable Soup - Andie's Way

In a sauce pan, combing the following:

One can of organic coconut milk (14oz)
Two lemon grass stalks with outer leaves removed, cut diagonally into 1-2 inch lengths
Some fresh ginger minced or sliced (1 tsp to 1 Tbsp depending on how spicy you want your soup.)
One sliced fresh serrano chili for a little extra heat. 
Heat this combination on low for a few (5-7) minutes until you can smell the lemon grass and ginger. Remove from heat and pour the contents through a sieve, retaining the flavored coconut milk. Discard the lemon grass, ginger and chili.
Combine the flavored coconut milk with asparagus cut diagonally (or whatever veggies you have - bok choi, carrots, potato, and tomato are all wonderful). Cook on low until veggies are cooked. I prefer to barely cook my veggies so they are a bit crisp. 
Serve with some chopped Thai basil sprinkled on top, and a wedge of lime so you can add a little more citrus flavor if desired. I tell you, it is delicious.

Sometimes I will put some cut lemon grass pieces into the water when I'm cooking rice to give it a bit of flavor, especially for Asian meals.

Another thing I love about lemon grass is the fresh scent. It reminds me of magnolia blossoms but less sweet and definitely less potent. Lemon grass candles are one of my favorite aromas, fresh and exotic. When I harvest some lemon grass to make soup, I often cut an extra stalk or two to put in a vase for a fresh little addition with a beautiful hint of lemon.

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