Tried and tasted: How lemongrass can be your saviour in hot weather
I am not much into gardening, but in this searing hot weather, I look at a shaggy plant of mine with immense pleasure. Someone some years ago had given me a pot of lemongrass. It has been growing without much assistance, and adding flavour to our food every now and then.
It was the sizzling heat – the kind that enables you to fry an egg on a pavement (if you wish to) --- that made me think of lemongrass and its cooling effect. Think of lemongrass, and you think of Chef Veena Arora of The Imperial, who, having grown up in Thailand, uses this herb in many of her dishes.
The Chef De cuisine at The Spice Route in The Imperial is my go-to person on all culinary matters relating to south-east Asia. How would you use lemongrass for a light meal on a hot day, I asked her? She would make some laab kai – chicken salad with lemongrass – and tom som mamuang – chicken soup with raw mango and lemongrass, she said.
Lemongrass, as we all know, is a tall and hard grass, somewhat grey and somewhat green, that is used for a variety of reasons – including health, taste and flavour. It aids digestion, keeps mosquitoes at bay, makes for a soothing cup of tea and enriches dishes. The lower part of the grass is usually bruised and used in food. It gives a refreshing, lemony flavour to your dishes.
The chef’s salad was excellent – with minced chicken and shallots flavoured with lemongrass and kaffir lime. The soup was a clear one, with a stock so intense that it made all the difference to the taste. And, of course, the lemongrass did its bit, rejuvenating my palate.
Lemongrass adds flavour to everything – from vegetables and meat to fish. I have a Madhur Jaffrey recipe for tom yam haeng – fish sautéed with aromatic herbs – which works out rather well. I make a sauce out of lemon juice, fish sauce, sugar and some chopped hot chillies (she uses bird chillies). Then I stir lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves and galangal in hot oil for 10 second. I add Thai chilli paste to this and stir for a minute. I add some fish pieces, lower the heat and add half of the fish sauce with some water. Once the fish is cooked, I add the remaining sauce over it.
So let’s endure this weather with lemongrass. Let it grow in pots, and let it flavour our sauces, salads and soup. And let it remind us of the rain.
Recipe: Tom kha kai (Chicken in coconut milk and galangal soup)
Ingredients: 1/3rd cup sliced chicken, 1/2 cup sliced mushroom, 1 cup coconut milk, 1tbsp chopped lemongrass, 1tbsp sliced galangal, 4 torn kaffir lime leaves, 1½ tbsp lime juice, 1½ tbsp fish sauce, ½ tsp sugar, 1tsp coriander root, 1tbsp chopped shallot, 2 garlic cloves, 1tsp kaffir lime zest, 2 deep fried red chillies, 1tbsp coriander leaves
Method: Boil the coconut milk. Add galangal, kaffir lime leaves and mushroom. Pound coriander root, shallot, garlic and zest and add to the coconut milk. When it boils, add the chicken. Once the chicken is done, remove from heat. Add fish sauce, lime juice, sugar. Garnish with deep fried red chillies and coriander leaves. Serve hot.
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