In our home, mornings are for coffee. Strong, black coffee. But afternoons are for tea. I used to just brew a cup of black or green tea and add some local honey, but now I’ve opened up my horizons and include tea made from so many things I find in our garden or at the farmer’s market. Hibiscus, cinnamon leaf, allspice, lemongrass, ginger, turmeric. Moringa leaf, vanilla, damiana. I’ve been making tea out of anything I can find, making sure I check it’s effects and safety first, of course.
The lemongrass, also known as citronella, is my current project. We have a friend who has so much of it growing that he needs to “use it or lose it” and I’ve been taking whatever he has. We also planted our own which will soon come up in abundance. The stalks can be used in many ways, including as a bug repellant, which comes in handy when you live in a neighborhood called “Mosquitoville.”
You’ll find lemongrass in southeast Asian culinary traditions, including Thailand and Vietnam. I make a Vietnamese-style lemongrass chicken I’ll give you the recipe for if you read on. As a tea, I was just drinking it because it tastes refreshing and soothing, but there are health benefits, including help with insomnia and as an antioxidant and antiinflammatory.
Find lemongrass tea bags in the coffee and tea aisle at the market or use fresh. Just pour boiling water over chopped dried or fresh lemongrass, about 3 teaspoons. If using fresh, chop up both the bulbs and leafy stalks. Steep for about five minutes or until it’s the strength you like. Strain the tea and enjoy hot or iced. I also like to steep freshly sliced ginger root in the mix there as well.
When you’re in the produce aisle at the market, look for stalks that are firm, still moist and with no brown. The color will be light yellow at the bottom and then brighter green at the top. In cooking, peel off the tougher, outer leaves of the stalk and use the more tender inner core. Chop or slice thinly. You can also grind the leaves with a soy or fish sauce to create a paste to use in a recipe and there are handy dandy jars of lemongrass paste in the supermarket to make it even easier.
I like to throw lemongrass stalks into soups and then remove them after cooking. It gives a mellow, citrusy flavor to vegetables and chicken broths and it’s great in a traditional tom kha gai soup with creamy coconut. I’ve included a version I make for the pescatarian in our house with all shrimp instead of chicken.
Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken
Makes 6 servings
The marinade for this chicken dish can also be used for pork, fish, shrimp, tofu - really any main protein. Serve over rice or with clear noodles.
• 2- 2 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs or breast pounded thin
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
For the marinade:
• 1/4 cup minced scallions
• 5 tablespoons chopped lemongrass, about 3 stalks, just the more tender inner white cores
• 3 tablespoons fish sauce
• 2 tablespoons soy sauce
• 2 tablespoons lime juice
• 2 tablespoons brown sugar
• 1 tablespoon Thai red curry paste
• 1 tablespoon sesame oil
• 2 garlic cloves, minced
• 2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger or turmeric
• 2 teaspoons red chili paste, or to taste
• 1 tablespoon fresh, chopped basil
• 1 tablespoon fresh, chopped mint
• Lime slices for garnish
Trim the end off of the lemongrass and remove the tough outer husks. Chop the inner white core at the bottom 5-inches of the stalk into rounds.
Whisk all of the marinade ingredients together in a large bowl and place your chicken in the marinade. Add chicken and marinate at least an hour, preferably overnight in the refrigerator.
For the chicken:
Before cooking, let the chicken sit outside the fridge for about half an hour.
Heat a cast-iron skillet with olive oil over medium-high heat. Shake the marinade off each piece of chicken and cook for 5 minutes, until browned. Turn over, reduce heat to medium and cover. Heat for about 6 more minutes. Check to see if it’s cooked through and if so, remove from heat and let rest for 5 minutes. Slice, and serve with rice or noodles.
You can also use the grill after shaking off the marinade, about 7 minutes for each side.
Garnish your chicken with lime wedges and chili pepper slices if desired.
Tom Kha Gai Soup with Shrimp
Makes 4 servings
Chicken is often used in tom kha gai Soup but we usually use just shrimp or tofu. You can add other vegetables like snow pea pods, sliced red pepper and broccoli.
• Shrimp or tofu
• 1 shallot, diced
• ¼ cup ginger, sliced into ⅛ inch thick disks
• 3 tablespoons finely chopped lemongrass or lemongrass paste
• 8 kaffir lime leaves
• 2 cups seafood or vegetable broth
• 8 ounces sliced mushrooms, preferably shiitake or cremini
• 2 14-ounce cans of coconut milk
• 3 fresh Thai chilies, sliced, more if you like it spicy
• 3 tablespoons fish sauce (or sub vegan fish sauce)
• 4 tablespoons lime juice
• 2 teaspoons brown sugar
• Salt and pepper to taste
• Cilantro leaves or chives for garnish
Season the shrimp with salt and pepper.
Saute shallot in olive or sesame oil over medium heat. Add ginger, lemongrass and lime leaves and 2 cups broth. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add the shrimp or tofu and mushrooms as well as any vegetables you’d like and poach at a simmer for about 4 minutes, until the shrimp is firm and pink. Add the coconut milk, fish sauce, sliced chili pepper and salt to taste. Simmer, then add the lime juice and sugar. Add salt, pepper and chilies to taste and garnish with chives and cilantro if desired.
Rachel Forrest is a former restaurant owner who lives in Austin, Texas. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.