Refreshing. Aromatic. Citrusy. These are a few ways to describe one of my favorite culinary herbs, lemongrass or Cymbopogon citratus. One might think it would be a challenge to cultivate lemongrass in mountainside gardens in our cool northern climate. I’ve been learning that even warmth-loving plants may do well as annuals on my deck since they get the benefit of full summer sun.
Hopeful, I planted two small sprigs of lemongrass into one pot in May. They responded by growing superbly. The pot was super low maintenance and attracted zero pests or insects. Actually, lemongrass is used like citronella in repelling insects. Since the blades of grass began changing to a less bright green and our first frost is imminent, this pot had grown as much as I could expect here at Coppertop; it was harvest time! Lately it seems each day has some stocking, storing, and putting-up-for-winter tasks.
The first step was donning gloves, since the sharp blades can cut skin. Next, I gave the plants a crewcut. I’ll save these blades or leaves for making herbal tea. Once they dry out I’ll dice them into tiny pieces that, when steeped, will refresh.
I divided and peeled back the tough layers on stalks that were thicker than a pencil and about 4-6 inches long.
Peeling away layers got me to the interior, somewhat softer portion of the herb. After moving indoors and slicing this pale green and purple portion, the herb was now destined for my handy dandy spice grinder (a coffee bean grinder), where it was further minced in small batches. This extra step is important because even small slices of lemongrass are very fibrous and too difficult to chew — a choking hazard! I froze the minced lemongrass. I also saved the tops to be pounded and used later to infuse broth.
I’ll use this prepared lemongrass in soups like Tom Yum, curries, and other Southeast Asian cuisine. The minced lemongrass must be cooked at least a few minutes to soften it further, best done when sautéing onions and garlic in the first steps of recipes. Lemongrass also goes great with the salmon that is so readily available here, and with delicious shrimp, adding a bright, citrusy note to marinades. I’ve also been meaning to pull out my ice cream/ sorbet maker, and what would be more refreshing after hearty autumn stews than a scoop of lemongrass sorbet?
I saved ten stalks in glass jars with hopes of re-rooting them for spring planting. These will spend the winter on a sunny windowsill. If I successfully grow more bunches of lemongrass next year I may have enough to make flavored syrups to add to yummy summery cocktails.