Lemongrass, or tanglad in Filipino, is a citrusy herb worth exploring. Whether you're already familiar with its unique flavor or have yet to try it, this post is for you! Let's learn more about this versatile ingredient that can make your meals even more delicious.
What is lemongrass?
Lemongrass is a tall, aromatic herb native to tropical regions, particularly in the Philippines. It has slender, pale-green stalks and a bulbous base, resembling the appearance of spring onions or scallions, but tougher and substantially larger in size.
Belonging to the grass family, it is known scientifically as the genus Cymbopogon. Many types of lemongrass exist, but not all are edible. Cymbopogon citratus is the variety used in cooking, known for its lemony flavor. Other species are often used for its essential oils, like citronella oil.
What does lemongrass taste like?
Lemongrass has a lemon-like flavor, with a subtle hint of mint and ginger. It's fresh, slightly tangy, and has an underlying earthy note. When you cook with it, it imparts a citrusy aroma that enhances the dish without overpowering it.
For those unfamiliar with it, think of it as a more delicate, grassier version of lemon that adds a refreshing and aromatic dimension to recipes.
How to prepare and use lemongrass
Lemongrass is a versatile herb, used similarly to ginger, that can enhance various dishes. The soft inner portion of the bottom stalk is the main section to use.
Use the bottom, inner stalks
Slice off about an inch from the bulbous lower end. Then trim the upper part of the stalk, leaving the lower section between 4 to 6 inches, depending on the size of the stalk.
Peel away the tough, fibrous outer layers, which are typically dry and loose.
You will find a tight, softer section underneath that is pale green to white, about 4 to 6 inches from the base. This is the edible portion and the most flavorful. Rinse them thoroughly before use.
Use in stir-fries/sautés, sauces, and marinades
For stir-fries and sautés, you can thinly slice, finely chop, or mince the inner part for a more pleasant texture.
A mortar and pestle can be used to grind and release the aromatic flavors of lemongrass.
For making sauces or marinades, you can blend or puree the ingredients using a blender or food processor for a smoother consistency.
Use in soups, stews, and tea
Lemongrass is excellent for chicken and fish dishes as it helps mask or reduce their strong odors. It's also great for soups and stews, especially ones with coconut milk.
Use the back of a knife or a heavy object to whack the stalk, releasing its essential oils. Let it simmer in the dish and discard after cooking. You can also create a refreshing lemongrass tea by boiling these stalks in water.
Instead of throwing them away, you can use these tough, light green upper stalks to infuse flavor to soups and broths, or to stuff lechon, lechon belly, and lechon manok.
How to buy lemongrass
In the U.S., fresh lemongrass stalks are commonly available at well-stocked grocery stores and Asian markets. Choose firm stalks that are pale yellow-green and have a small bulb at the end.
The upper part of the stalk may not appear very fresh, but it should not be brown or wilted. When you gently squeeze or take a whiff, you should smell a lemony aroma. You can find frozen lemongrass and lemongrass paste as convenient alternatives.
How to store lemongrass
Lemongrass adds a fresh and vibrant flavor to your dishes. Since you often need only a small quantity at a time, you're likely to have some left over. To keep it fresh and readily available, follow these tips:
Remove the tough outer layers, then place the stalks in a resealable plastic bag in the vegetable crisper drawer of your refrigerator. They can stay fresh for up to 3 weeks.
Freeze stalks, puree or paste
If you don't plan to use them soon, freezing is an excellent option. Cut the stalks into smaller pieces and place them in an airtight container or a freezer-safe bag. Store it in the freezer for up to 6 months.
To maximize convenience, you can create lemongrass paste or puree by blending it with a bit of water. Freeze the mixture in small containers or ice cube trays. This allows you to conveniently use small portions as needed.
Filipino recipes with lemongrass
Tanglad, or lemongrass, is readily available in the Philippines and can often be found in backyards and gardens. Let's explore some Filipino recipes that showcase its citrusy aroma:
- Chicken Tinola: A classic Filipino chicken soup with ginger and other aromatic ingredients, like lemongrass. It's traditionally cooked with green papaya and chili pepper leaves.
- Sinigang: A sour soup made with various proteins and vegetables. Lemongrass adds a citrusy aroma and helps reduce strong smells.
- Chicken Inasal: Grilled chicken barbecue marinated in vinegar, calamansi, lemongrass, ginger, and garlic.
- Lechon Baboy: Whole roasted pig, sometimes suckling pig, typically stuffed with a variety of herbs and spices, including lemongrass.
- Cebuchon (Lechon Cebu): A regional variation from Cebu using pork belly, known for its distinct preparation method that often includes lemongrass as a key seasoning.
- Lechon Manok: Also called litsong manok, this roast chicken is often marinated and stuffed with lemongrass and other aromatic ingredients.
- Laing: A dish made with dried taro leaves, shrimp paste, and coconut milk. Lemongrass adds a fresh, lemony taste.
Lemongrass is not just an ordinary herb; its versatility showcases the rich and diverse traditions in Filipino cooking. So, when you come across lemongrass in the market, don't hesitate to give it a try. This ingredient has the potential to elevate your everyday meals to something truly special.
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