Meet Herb

Lemon grass is a perennial that is native to the tropical climes of South East Asia, Africa, South America and some parts of Australia. It is now also being cultivated in Florida for commercial use. If you're lucky enough to get hold of a root, it will grow nicely in a pot on a bright window sill. It is, in the truest sense, a grass as it rarely if ever flowers and its leaves are long and slender and strap-like. It's these bright green leaves that are used to give a delicate lemon flavour to candy and tea.

It's mostly the lower section of these leaves that contain a strong aromatic oil used to flavour the curries and spiced dishes of South East Asia. It marries especially well with garlic, ginger, curry leaves and fresh coriander. Throw it into most soups and sauces or grind it with other spices to make a traditional Thai-style paste. Lemon grass can be bought fresh or dried. Also, if you have Asian shops in your area, look for it in a powdered form called sereb.

The fresh leaves they can be either sliced or chopped, while the dry leaves can be tied into a knot and removed after cooking. Use the powdered form sparingly as its flavour is very strong. Use lemon balm, lemon verbena or lemon peel as substitutes.

Use lemon grass as a cleanser for dry and oily skin as it can help to normalize the production of oil.

Thai Chicken Curry with Cilantro and Lemon Grass

Since the traditional Thai curry has a thinner sauce than the Indian one, it's a good idea to have plenty of rice on hand to absorb it.
  • 1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 4 fresh red chilies, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 2 inch piece of lemon grass, chopped finely
  • 2 tsp coriander seed
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 4 skinless, boneless, chicken breast halves, shredded
  • 13-oz can coconut milk
  • 7 1/2-oz can bamboo shoots
  • 1 cup button mushrooms, quartered
  • 3 - 4 tbsp fresh cilantro chopped

With a mortar and pestle, or a coffee grinder that you use only for spices, grind the ginger, chilies, garlic, shallots, lemongrass, coriander seed and salt to a paste. Alternatively, you can place everything on a chopping block and use either a rolling pin or the bottom of a heavy steel pan to crush everything.

Heat the oil over high heat and fry the paste for 30 seconds. Add the shredded chicken and stir fry for 2 minutes. Pour in the coconut milk and bring it to a boil then reduce the heat, cover the pan and let simmer for 10 minutes. Add the bamboo shoots and mushrooms and simmer for two minutes longer.

Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the cilantro and serve accompanied by boiled or steamed rice.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 1 hour

Chilled Curried Soup

Because of the subtle lemony tang this soup gets from the lemon grass, it would make a perfect first course for a summer dinner party.
  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 stem lemon grass chopped or 1 1/2 tsp lemon balm or lemon verbena
  • 1 tsp mild curry powder
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1 1/2 pts chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 pint single cream
  • salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander to garnish

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, add the shallots and sauté over a gentle heat for a couple of minutes. Add the lemon grass and continue sautéing while adding the curry powder and flour. Stir the whole together and continue to sauté for about three minutes, stirring constantly. Pour in the stock, bring to a boil stirring then lower the heat and let it simmer for about 5 minutes. Add the lemon juice and cream and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Allow it to continue cooking over a very low heat for another 2 minutes approximately, remove from the heat and pour into a large bowl. Stand the bowl in a sink and pour in ice water to about halfway up the sides of the bowl. Leave to cool for 15 minutes. Remember to continue stirring it while it cools in order to avoid a skin forming.

Cover the bowl and chill in the refrigerator overnight. Remove the soup from the fridge shortly before serving and pulse it quickly through a food processor or blender. Serve garnished with coriander.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes, plus cooling time

And there you have it!! Short and sweet this month, but definitely interesting. Look for lemon grass in your local fresh produce stand, take some home and test drive it in your kitchen. Let me know what you think.

Have a great June . . . see you next month!!