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!

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