Vietnamese-style chicken with lemongrass (Recipe below)
I fell in love with lemongrass early on, during my three years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand. These elegant, slender and sturdy stalks of a tropical grass provide a distinctive and delicate flavor to Southeast Asian soups, stews, curries, and other dishes, in kitchens from Indonesia to Thailand and from Vietnam to Burma. My introduction to this fragrant and delicately citrus-y herb was a Thai classic: Shrimp and Lemongrass Soup. This dish gives the subtle herb a place of honor amongst the fire of chilies and the bright tang of wild lime leaves and lime juice.
Thailand, lemongrass tends to be a homegrown herb, though it is also available in most any market. While it’s much easier to find here in the USA nowadays than it was in the 1980’s, when I came home hungry for Thai food and eager to cook it, I still love growing it each year. The plant has deep beauty, and an even more powerful flavor when homegrown.
#LetsLunch, a community of food bloggers who post on a chosen theme each month, picked “New Beginnings” as our January theme. I struggled to think of a subject, since I have been on this planet and cooking for a very long time, and I couldn’t think of a New Dish nor a New Cuisine that made sense. While gazing at the Christmas tree across the family room from my sink where I was doing dishes, I suddenly noticed my jar of lemongrass stalks, rooting away for my summertime cooking pleasure. A new beginning! In fact the climate here is mild enough that my lemongrass patch and pots could conceivably winter over; but I take pleasure in starting a whole new batch each year. The results are lovely and fresh, and I cherish the magic of creating an entirely new patch of this ethereal and lovely herb from ‘mother’ stalks I buy in the dead of winter.
Starting with trimmed stalks in a jar of water on your kitchen counter, you should have roots within a few weeks. By the time you are ready to consider setting it outside without concern over frost, your rooting stalks should be ready to plant in dirt. Here’s a look at a small batch of lemongrass stalks which I trimmed and put into water for rooting early in December.
Those rooted stalks, removed from their jar of water to give you a closer look. Their color changes from dull green or yellow, to bright vibrant green, as they begin to put out roots. Your homegrown lemongrass will be deeper in color and flavor, and less woody in texture, than what we can find in the store. Still tough and fibrous—-lemongrass is never tender and pleasing to eat directly, unless it is sliced paperthin. But the level of flavor will increase tremendously, compared to what we can buy from mainstream sources.
That’s how to get your lemongrass garden, patch, or pot started. I’ll post again in a few weeks, when my new batch is ready for planting.
Inspiration here, for you lemongrass fans who wonder what the real thing looks like. Taken in Thailand in my town, Thatoom, this past summer, when I went out for an early morning stroll. Keep in mind: what you grow here will not match this glorious aabundance. Mine doesn’t get this wonderful — Lemongrass is happier in Thailand’s tropical paradise than it is here in North Carolina. But this patch serves a community of cooks and I easily grow more than I need each year. Lemongrass is happy here and does well, and I think you will love both growing it, and cooking with, later on in 2013.
Here’s my main lemongrass pot from 2012. I started with rooted stalks in the spring, March or April, and had plenty to cook with summer and fall. I left it outside as cold weather came on, and let it turn to dry, wintry straw. I will pull out and compost the dry stalky remains before beginning my 2013 pot outdoors, come spring.
My friends around the world have been posting #LetsLunch on our January theme: New Beginnings. Here are links to a lovely and inspiring array of recipes and commentary on our New Year theme. Thankful for our brilliant and generous #LetsLunch member, Pat Tanumijardja of The Asian Grandmother’s Cookbook, for orchestrating this month’s Lunch!
Enjoy this buffet of tasty _#LetsLunch Blogposts from my friends:
Vietnamese Fresh Spring Rolls
Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies
Jill Warren Lucas
Heavenly Angel Food Cake
Brown Butter Creamed Chard and Spinach
Grace Hwang Lynch
Homemade Matcha Green Tea Yogurt
Making Parathas with Mom
Da Bombe Alaska
Caribbean Style Black-Eyed Peas
Lemongrass Chicken, Vietnamese-Style
Here’s my recipe for lemongrass chicken. It’s a simple, Vietnamese-inspired stir-fry to enjoy with rice or noodles as part of an Asian style meal, or with grits, couscous, tortillas or biscuits. Make it with 2 or 3 spoonsful of crushed chilies if you love the edible heat. While the New Beginning theme for this post inspired me to present my newly-begun lemongrass and how to grow your own batch, that doesn’t mean that you need to wait for your lemongrass to root, thrive, and be harvest-ready to make this dish. It’s wonderful with storebought lemongrass, which I buy and use often. Happy cooking!
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, or chicken breast
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 chopped fresh lemongrass (about 3 stalks, see Note)
1/4 cup chopped shallots or onion
1/3 cup chicken broth or water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon crushed dried red chili flakes
3 tablespoons chopped green onions
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
In a medium bowl, combine the chicken, soy sauce, and garlic, and stir to mix everything well. Set aside for 20 to 30 minutes (or cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day).In a small bowl, combine the Asian fish sauce, sugar, and salt, and stir well. In a blender or a small food processor, combine the lemongrass, shallots, and chicken broth or water. Blend to a fairly smooth puree, stopping to scrape down the sides and grind up any signifgant chunks of lemongrass.
Heat a large, deep skillet or a wok over high heat until very hot. Add oil and swirl to coat the pan. When a bit of green onion sizzles at once, scatter in the chicken and spread it out into a single layer. Let it cook for about 1 minute, until browned on one side and fragrant. Toss well and let cook until browned, about 1 minute more.
Add the lemongrass puree and toss well. Add the fish sauce mixture, toss well, and then cook, tossing occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through. Add the chili flakes and the green onions and toss well. Transfer to a serving plate, sprinkle with cilantro, and serve hot or warm. Serves 4 with rice and another vegetable dish or salad.
To prepare lemongrass, trim away the woody bottom end of 3 lemongrass stalks, to make a smooth base just under the bulge of the bulb. Cut away the grassy top portion, leaving a base about three inches long. Halve each stalk lengthwise, and then cut them very thinly crosswise into tiny pieces. Tumble the bits together, and then remove and discard any pieces which don’t have a purple tinge. (Purple color = flavor and aroma in lemongrass). You’ll need about 1/4 cup.
This recipe comes from Quick and Easy Vietnamese: 70 Everyday Recipes, by Nancie McDermott (Chronicle Books, 2006). Copyright @Nancie McDermott. All rights reserved.