Saturday, May 23, 2015

How to Grow and Use Lemongrass

A new and small lemongrass plant in the back corner
As a gardener with a limited area of prime, sunny gardening space, I'm always looking for open places to add edible plants and herbs.  I have done things like force compatible vegetables to share space by tucking basil in with large planters of tomatoes, have used neglected window boxes to grow tidy rows of chard, and have added beautiful red-veined sorrel to empty spots in my perennial beds in front of my house.

This year, I wanted to claim some space in the big ornamental container by my front door for growing edibles. As someone who is not terribly creative with ornamental container plantings, I tend the stick with the "thriller, filler, spiller" rule of thumb and thought what better “thriller” than the tall statuesque lemongrass.

Lemongrass is a citrusy-flavored herb that gives Thai food its distinctive taste.  It is relatively carefree in a sunny garden in a tropical zone.  In colder zones like mine, lemongrass can be grown in containers and taken in during the winter months, or simply planted outside in the garden and grown as an annual.  Plants can be started by seed (for a far slower start), but it is easy enough to take cuttings from a friend or find fresh green lemongrass stalks from an Asian grocer and root in a glass of water.  Change the water every other day and roots should appear within two weeks.  When roots are a couple inches long, the lemongrass stalks can be planted in a container or into the garden.  In the garden, lemongrass can grow to at least three feet tall and wide.  The lemongrass in my planter has already gotten noticeably larger in the past couple of weeks, but being situated in partial shade, and being confined to a container, it won’t get too big.  Still, I won't be stingy with using the stalks when I need to. And at the end of the season, I will cut all remaining stalks and dry for use throughout the winter.

To use lemongrass, harvest as needed by cutting larger outside stalks at soil level.  The part used in cooking is the light green or yellowish section near the bottom half of the stalk. You can crush the stalk in this section and notice the fresh citrus scent. Tough or bruised outside leaves with no fragrance should be removed before cooking.  There are numerous cooking methods to use depending on the dish.  To flavor soups, cut into 5 inch lengths and twist the entire length of the section or crush with a mallet or rolling pin before adding to the pot.  To add to stir-fries, grate lemongrass or crush and then mince.  For curries, use tender lemongrass sections and cut very thinly.

I love the fragrance of lemongrass and find it very energizing and mood-boosting.  It is also a critical ingredient in making a great Thai tom yum soup like THIS one.  Enjoy!

Friday, May 15, 2015

GBBD: May 2015

It's Garden Blogger's Bloom Day! While this is the first time I've participated in probably...years...(I've been a very very bad blogger), I'm thrilled that hundreds of garden bloggers around the world are still posting photos of their blooms reliably every month.  Just about as reliably as these beautiful blooms in my May garden.  Visit May Dreams Gardens  blog to see more!

Tom Yum Soup Recipe

Fragrant and distinct, the classic tom yum kung soup is a perfect blend of the most common Thai herbs and vegetables, many of which you may be able to grow in your own backyard.  Don’t have it all going in your garden just yet?  All of these ingredients can be found in Asian supermarkets, and most can be found in your well-stocked local supermarket.  Not only is this soup a delicious amalgamation of savory, tangy, and spicy tastes (if you’ve had this soup before, I know you’re craving it now just reading about it), it may have health benefits.  Ingredients such as shallots, chili peppers, lemongrass and galangal are touted as having immune-boosting properties.  Try it tonight or the next time you’re fighting a cold.  Serves 4.

Tom Yum Kung    

6 cups chicken stock

2 stalks lemongrass, cut into 5 inch sections, and bruised with a mallet

1 inch piece of galangal or ginger root, sliced

3 shallots, cut in half and crushed with the back of a knife

4 kaffir lime leaves

1 8-ounce can of straw mushrooms, rinsed

2 chili peppers, chopped

1 tablespoon chili paste

12 Large shrimp, peeled tail-on and deveined

1 lime, juiced

2 tablespoons brown sugar

3 tablespoons fish sauce

Handful of cilantro, coarsely chopped

Bring chicken stock to a boil over medium high heat.  Add lemongrass sections, galangal and shallots.  Tear the kaffir lime leaves halfway and add to pot.  Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  Add straw mushrooms, chopped chili peppers, chili paste, shrimp.  Add lime juice, sugar, fish sauce.  Simmer for a few minutes more until shrimp is cooked.  Remove from heat and garnish with cilantro to serve. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Microgreen Smoothie Recipes

Recently, I was a guest speaker at the Library of Congress. My talk was about how to grow and add microgreens to your diet.  After the talk, one gentleman asked me if one could add microgreens to smoothies.  The answer is you certainly can! In its raw form, microgreens have been found to have from 4 to 40 times the nutrients found in their mature counterparts, so definitely a great addition to a smoothie.

I think I expressed my opinion that it would be "sort of a waste" to add microgreens to a smoothie, which as soon as the words left my mouth, I realized was a dumb comment.  I said this because 1) I personally love to eat microgreens in a salad, especially the more substantial greens like sunflower greens, and 2) I like to hide veggies I don’t love in smoothies and juices, thus adding microgreens would be a waste. Plus, I'm just not a really big smoothie maker.

This gentleman said he likes to make smoothies all the time.  Well, I hope he forgives my comment because adding microgreens to smoothies would be an absolutely delicious, nutritious, and convenient thing to do! For him, I have found several microgreen smoothies recipes to try. There are many out there (try Google and Pinterest), and a reliable way to use them would also be in your existing favorite green smoothie recipe.

Superfood Warrior by

 ¾ cup chocolate almond milk

1 banana

1-3 teaspoons cacao powder

1 tablespoon almond butter

½ cup ice

1 handful kale microgreens

3 shakes cinnamon

Tropical Broccoli Breeze by

 ½ cup pineapple juice

½ cup unsweetened coconut milk

1 banana

1 handful broccoli greens

1-2 tablespoons coconut shreds

6 ounces ice

Avocado Smoothie by

1 avocado

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 cup milk (any kind)

Dash cayenne

Dash salt, if desired

½ cup sunflower greens

1 tablespoon fresh basil

1 tablespoon honey

The Cure-All by
(makes a large amount)

¼ cup beet microgreens

½ cup pea shoots

1/8 cup oregano

¼ cup radish microgreens

1 banana, frozen

½ mango

6 cups orange juice

1 cup plain yogurt

Squeeze honey

Anti-Oxidant Smoothie by

1 cup vanilla almond milk

½ frozen banana

½ cup blueberries

1 handful kale microgreens


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Durian Ice Cream

My mom has always loved durian.  With a few good Asian supermarkets around us, she's able to taste her favorite fruit from time to time.  She would probably describe it as unique, rich, tropical, pleasant, and sweet. This large and spiky "King of Fruits" however, is notoriously stinky.  Its taste and smell have been described by my family (and confirmed by the population at large) as similar to: gasoline, excrement, and rotting pineapple, with a texture like baby vomit.  This is why in some of my earliest memories, she is eating durian in the garage, on a stool, next to the car, by herself.  She was not allowed to enjoy her favorite fruit inside the house.

This year, I figured there would be no better homemade gift than to make her several pints of ice cream, starring her beloved durian.  No one in my family made me go outside like we used to make my mom, but I do warn against making this recipe while it's 30-something degrees out.  When I cut into the grand, sharp thing, it let out a "ppffftttt" and began releasing its intense odor.  Suddenly, I had a family of drama queens running around, opening every door and window, forcing me to make my ice cream while shivering in my winter coat. But as my younger daughter said, "You made our whole house stink! You really love Popo (grandmother) don't you".

The recipe below was adapted from this recipe, and uses the flesh from a whole, large durian. It is less sweet just like my mom would prefer, so add more sugar if you like a more conventional sweetness.  Just taste the custard before allowing to cool and add more sugar if you like.  Makes about 2.5 quarts or about 5 1-pint containers.  *Most ice cream freezers only spin about 1.5 quarts.  This recipe makes 2 batches.

Durian Ice Cream

1 whole durian
6 large egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups light cream
3 cups whole milk

Cut open durian and remove segments of flesh.  Remove seeds.  Puree in a food processor.  Press the puree through a sieve to strain out the stringy fibers.  You will have about 2 cups of smooth durian paste.  Cover and chill in the refrigerator.

In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks with vanilla and sugar.

Bring milk and cream to near boil over medium heat.

Reduce heat to low.

Ladle about a cup of hot milk mixture and whisk into eggs.  Pour egg mixture into milk mixture on the stove.  Stir constantly until thickened, a few minutes.  Do not let the mixture come to a boil.

Allow custard to cool, then chill in refrigerator or in a large Ziploc bag set in an ice bath.

When very cold, pour half the custard into ice cream machine.  Add half the durian paste and spin until frozen. Remove to freezer-safe container to ripen in freezer.  When ice cream freezer bowl is completely frozen and ready to use again (usually in 24 hours), spin second batch of custard and durian mixture.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

A garden book you'll definitely need to buy

Many of you might know Niki Jabbour's bestselling book The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener.  Niki has followed up with a new book that is truly fantastic.   Appealing to newbie, experienced, or any other level of gardener in between, this book contains 73 illustrated plans for a ridiculous number of specialized gardens.  I'm thrilled to say that my plan for growing an Asian vegetable garden is included.  This is a book that everyone will want to own - and it's available on the shelves of your favorite bookstores now!  

Sunday, June 1, 2014

No-till gardening

One of these days, I'm going to collect all the materials to build a thick and proper lasagna garden.  But for now, the goal is to do take some action so that my raised beds aren't a fallow sitting duck, just waiting for any and all weed seeds to drift on in and take root.  Typically, by the time I'm ready to transplant my seedlings, my beds are filled with dandelions, shotweed, and creeping charlie.  

This spring, I started by weeding the garden well, adding a thick layer of compost and manure, then topping it all off with a thick (and it needs to be thicker than it is in the photo above) layer of straw.  Below, when I'm ready to plant, I'll be able to pull out the mulch and simply plop the seedling in the soil.  We'll see if this method reduces my weed-pulling time and how it lasts the season!  Do you "no-till" or use a lasagna gardening method?  How does it work for you?  

spring garden peas

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