Monday, September 6, 2010

Uses and benefits of Lemongrass

My love of growing and using culinary herbs began during childhood. I can still see and smell the fresh mint patch on a shady side of the yard in the Bay Area house where I grew up. Our backyard vegetable garden would include Parsley, Chives and Basil as well.

It occurred to me in recent years that as I try to incorporate the health benefits of leafy greens into my diet, that fresh green herbs should be counted into the equation. This is a fact that many of us overlook. There is almost as much Lutein in parsley, as there is in fresh spinach!

Two years ago, my friend who is an organic gardener introduced me to a new culinary delight. Lemongrass! This tropical plant grows and multiplies each season and she is able to harvest many bulbous sections of this fragrant plant for her use in cooking.

This introduction opened new doors for me in my herb garden and in my kitchen. I absolutely fell in love with the fresh lemony flavors of this herb! Never again will my chicken stock or my homemade chicken noodle soup be made without this fresh delicate accent! Rice dishes are enhanced and sauces flavored in new ways with this fresh taste. I have found that this is one herb you really do not have to worry about using too much of. It maintains a consistent background flavor regardless of how much you use, but does not get too pungent (my kind of ingredient, no fail).

I learned from my friend the ways to process and use fresh lemongrass by splitting open the bulb at the base with a sharp knife (it is a tough plant) and pounding the fleshy “meat” with a meat hammer before adding the piece of the plant to my teapot, broth and sauces. Then, I simply discard the fibrous stalk after the liquid steeps its flavors into my recipe.

Lemongrass Tea is amazingly refreshing iced and unsweetened. Hot Lemongrass Tea is soothing and satisfying. Researching the health benefits of this herb confirms that I have stumbled on something that will be a lifelong practice – sipping Lemongrass Tea…

With all this love for the many uses and benefits of Lemongrass, the time came to think about how I would process and preserve it for year round use (the plant is a tropical perennial). Here is what I came up with:

The blades of grass will dry easily if you simply put them in a dry vase (or) cut into pieces with scissors and allowed to dry in a cool dark place. I sometimes use flat cardboard boxes with holes poked all around the sides and layer my herbs between cloth napkins. The boxes are stacked onto the very highest top shelf inside my pantry where it stays dark and cool.

The dried peices of Lemongrass are tough so I use a spice grinder (coffee bean grinder used for spices only) and make a fine powder to use in my cooking when the fresh “bulbs” are not available during the winter months. This powder is easily added to recipes or even green smoothies, making it a perfect addition for many raw food recipes. The cut up dried pieces (unground) are perfect for making tea in the teapot.

The Lemongrass freezes very well, another option for having it on hand year round.

You can also make a tea from the fresh processed lemongrass and freeze the “tea” in ice cube trays or in a thin layer using a flat pan. (I use Pyrex glass pans to avoid BPA interaction when I freeze it) Once frozen, the “tea” can be chipped into pieces with a knife. Back into the freezer it goes for storage until you are ready to use it a piece at a time. Simply slip the frozen pieces of lemongrass “ice” into whatever liquid you are cooking. Easy!

I would love to hear from other cooks and gardeners about the different uses of this delicious and beneficial herb!

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