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Cooking With Thai Lemon Grass
Lemon Grass, What Is Thai Lemon Grass
When talking about lemon grass, most of us would visualize thin streaks of grass. The above lemon grass image shows something quite different. Lemon grass, also called Thai lemon grass (in Thailand) is more like a stalk or stem. Pieces of this stalk are cooked in various dishes, the upper portions of lemon grass are often boiled in soups. Fresh food marts normally sell lemon grass in lengths of around 8 inches, or 20cm. The origins of lemon grass can be traced to China, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia. The distinct lemon (citrus) aroma of lemon grass has impressed cooks in many more countries. Today, fresh lemon grass stalks, powdered lemon grass and dried lemon grass are options available to cooks. The best flavour is ofcourse available by using fresh lemon grass, use the other options only if you cannot find fresh lemon grass stalks. The Thai word for lemon grass is takraai.
Lemon Grass, History And Aroma Of Lemon Grass
If you look at the tremendous popularity of lemon grass in Europe and North America, it is hard to believe that the true origins of lemon grass are in South East Asia. This lemon scented grass is grown on a commercial scale in Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and China. A typical piece of lemon grass would be around 8 inches (20cm) long with a slight bulge towards the end. Lemon grass might look a little like a fat spring onion, but the aroma is distinctly different (from spring onions). The color of lemon grass is a pale green with, slight brownish (or brownish pink) portions. To get the true aroma of lemon grass, you will need to cut the stem. This releases the distinct citrus aroma that is bound to stimulate your taste buds. It is this lemon aroma and flavour that gives lemon grass it's name. Regarding the taste and flavour of lemon grass, it could be described as an intense lemon flavour. You will also get a slight ginger flavour when tasting lemon grass.
Cooking With Lemon Grass
Numerous South-east Asian dishes use lemon grass. In Thailand, 'takraai' which is the local name for lemon grass, is used in salads, soups, stir fried dishes etc. Lemon grass is often pickled and eaten along with rice dishes. The abundance of lemon grass in Thailand, has made it an important ingredient in Thai food. A very interesting feature of Thai cooking is to flavour hot cooking oil with slices of lemon grass, ginger or galangal. This also creates a terrific aroma in the kitchen, try this and you will agree. The 'oil flavouring' is done as the oil is being heated and before, the main ingredients are put into the heated oil pan.
There is more than one way in which lemon grass can be used in the cooking process. Before you use either of the processes, remember to trim off the base of the lemon grass. Notice the lemon grass image shown above, cut off around 1cm from the base. The remaining length of the lemon grass is what needs to be used in cooking. The stalk of the lemon grass is the upper portion above the bulbous base. This portion is slightly crushed with a wooden pestle and boiled in soups and stews. The slow cooking releases the aroma of the lemon grass. You can take off the lemon grass and discarded it once the cooking process is finished. If you have a Thai food recipe for a salad or stir fried dish, you could use the bulbous portion. This is the lower portion of the lemon grass, remember you have already trimmed the base away. If you have not done so, chop off around 1cm from the base of the lemon grass, we will not be using the small cut off piece. You can use around 5cm which is about 2 inches, either slice it (round slices) or chop it finely into small pieces. These sliced or chopped lemon grass pieces can now be used to make your salad or stir fried dishes. Many Thai food recipes use this method to cook lemon grass.
Closer Image Of Thai Lemon Grass
Some More Notes On Lemon Grass
Fresh lemon grass is available in most countries, dry lemon grass and powdered lemon grass can be used instead of fresh lemon grass. Use these options only if fresh lemon grass is not available. A teaspoon of powdered lemon grass would be equivalent to using a stalk of fresh lemon grass. You can also find packets or containers of 'lemon grass paste', this is wet and does retain a fair degree of aroma and flavour. Follow the instructions on the packet or container to store your lemon grass paste. Some people suggest using lemon instead of lemon grass. Lemon does not have that punch and intensity of fresh lemon grass. If you are one of those persons who suffers from acidity after consuming lemon, there is good news for you. Lemon grass will give you the tempting aroma of lemon without the acidity. When storing lemon grass, place it in a paper bag and put it in the vegetable compartment (not freezer) of the refrigerator. The lemon grass will retain it's flavour and aroma for around 2 weeks.
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