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Lemony and lemony

india Updated: May 16, 2009 18:13 IST
Sanjeev Kapoor

Lemon grass has caught the western imagination quite dramatically, in recent years. There was a time when this scented grass was little known outside south-east Asia. But today it is grown in many parts of the world. Some call it a herb, others refer to it as a grass, but lemon grass is both.

My introduction to this flavourful herb was by way of tea. It is widely referred as chai patti and is infused along with regular tea leaves to give a brew a soothing and energizing flavour. Ever since I had my first sip of this ambrosia, my mornings usually begin with a cup of hot lemongrass tea.

How lemony is the grass
A native to India and also to other warm and temperate regions, the lemongrass is a perennial plant that grows tall and is evergreen. It has a bulbous base that grows in dense clumps.

It is good to take it with tea, as often as possible, for it acts as a good remedy against fever, coughs and colds. Being rich in Vitamin C and anti-oxidants, it balances the free radicals in your body. The best part is you can use lemongrass both, fresh or dried.

Eat.. look.. feel better
The stems resemble fat spring onions (scallions). It is only when they are cut that the citrus aroma is fully released. Lemongrass has a distinctly clean, intense lemon flavour which has the citrus tang sans the acidity associated with lemon or grapefruit. Lemon rind may be used as a substitute, but it lacks the intensity and liveliness of fresh lemongrass.

The grass can be added to curries, soups and casseroles, particularly those made with chicken and seafood. Only the bottom part of the stem is edible. This part can be finely chopped or thinly sliced.

Alternatively, the entire stem can be bruised, added to a dish to flavour it and then discarded before serving. Dried or powdered, it gives a kick to curries and zip to stews and soups, especially when combined with garlic, chillies and coriander.

Lemongrass oil based perfumes, soaps and creams also perk up your tired spirits. The Arabs using lemongrass with sesame and cotton oil to make perfumes. And ancient Greeks and Romans use it for its scent and healing properties.

The healer
The Chinese use lemongrass as a cure for many ailments — from rheumatic attacks to headaches and stomach aches. It also has antibacterial and antifungal properties that helps reduce pimples and acne, lowers blood pressure, encourages detoxification, stimulates digestion, improves blood circulation. In the Caribbean, they call it sweet rush or fever grass and use it to cure colds and fevers. Now you know why I term it as ambrosia?

(The writer is a master chef, author and television host. Email at enquiry@sanjeevkapoor.com )