Falling in Love with Lemongrass

It’s a typical romance novel contrivance: over the years, two people cultivate a fast friendship. Then something changes. Maybe they take a trip together; perhaps they’re forced to shelter under spreading oak branches during a rainstorm; a new-found love interest creates a problematic threesome. Suddenly, eyes are metaphorically opened. One sees the other, that previously known friend, in a completely new and transformed light. And from that point on, life without that discovered passion is a sere and barren wasteland.

This is how I feel about lemongrass.

Lemongrass stalks tied in knot on a cutting board with scissors
Cooking with lemongrass made me see this plant in a whole new light. Photo Credit: Leah Nyfeler

Why Plant Lemongrass?

My original reason for planting lemongrass? Mosquito deterrent.

Lemongrass (scientific name Cymbopogon) produces citronella, which can be extracted from the plant as an oil. When the long grassy leaves are brushed or crushed, they release an amazingly citrusy scent.

Now, how my yard smells is almost as important to me as how it looks, so whether or not lemongrass truly repelled mosquitoes was, in reality, secondary to that fresh aroma. Add to the fabulous scent–the plant tolerates full sun, little-to-no water, and even less landscape care. Score! (Hey, what can I say? I’m a lazy gardener.)

Backyard garden with lemongrass plant
That big grassy plant in the background is my lemongrass. It’s one huge plant. Photo Credit: Leah Nyfeler

Over the years, my lemongrass plant has  grown…and grown…and grown. Though a popular ingredient in Thai recipes, I hadn’t really done much of anything with it in the kitchen (translation: I had never cooked with my lemongrass). Until, that is, one summer’s Second Sunday Supper Club.

Supper Club Inspires a New Look at Lemongrass

Once a month, a group of my friends meet to share dinner. We’re all connected through Marla Briley, who is a wonderful friend and has been, at one point or another, workout buddy to all. Joined by this shared love of good food and quality exercise, we gather to produce a themed meal. The intent is to push cooking limits, try new foods, and spend a lovely (and delicious) evening together. One recent supper club theme was “Herbs for Your Health”; each of us chose an herb, learned its benefits, and prepared it in a dish.

Leah Nyfeler showing her coconut ride dish and lemongrass knots at Supper Club
At Supper Club, we each tell about our dish and Marla takes photos. I’m showing off my coconut rice and lemongrass knots. Photo Credit: Marla Briley

There was my giant bunch of lemongrass taking over the garden, so I decided to take advantage of that bounty. We had all the ingredients on hand to prepare nasi lemak, a traditional Malaysian breakfast dish, which required me to tie lemongrass knots. Suddenly, I looked at this familiar plant with fresh eyes.

I’d fallen in love with an old friend.

How to Tie a Lemongrass Knot

Why in the world would you tie lemongrass into a knot?

Basically, you don’t eat lemongrass. The plant grows in clumps of tough stalks, and its knife-edged grassy leaves can cause fine cuts (like paper cuts–ouch!). Lemongrass flavors. Creating knots is an attractive way to release flavor and easily fish out inedible pieces when the dish is ready to eat.

Step 1: Harvest sections of lemongrass by cutting the stalk near the roots. If you pull the section out by the roots like I did, then your plant gets smaller. Mine was HUGE, so I harvested whole clumps.

Lemongrass stalks on a cutting board

Step 2: Peel off the tough outer stalk covering. Trim the grassy part–you’re keeping a section that’s 6–8 inches long.

Step 3: Use a meat mallet (or bottom of a cup, or whatever you have on hand) to tenderize the hard stalk. The goal is pliable, not pulverized.

Using a meat mallet to tenderize lemongrass stalks

Step 4: Tie the softened stalk into a pretty knot and drop in your pot to provide recipe flavor. Or store for later use.

Lemongrass tied into knots for cooking
Loosely wrapped lemongrass stalks will keep for one or two weeks if refrigerated. Photo Credit: Leah Nyfeler

Want to Learn More About Lemongrass?

Does citronella really repel mosquitoes?

What health benefits are associated with lemongrass?

Recipe for nasi lemak (coconut rice) from Saveur

 This “Addictive Fresh Lemongrass Tea,” from The Wanderlust Kitchen, is now a favorite beverage (though I cut the sugar to 2 tablespoons). 

Lemongrass plant in backyard garden.
Use your lemongrass often (shown right) so you have plenty of tender, fresh stalks. That’s sage growing to the left. I love growing and cutting herbs from my garden! Photo Credit: Leah Nyfeler

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Published by Leah Nyfeler

I’m a writer, editor, runner, and adventurer who is always looking for the next new story, exciting adventure, and good meal/book/movie. My focus is on helping people find their best, healthiest self through sharing what I know and how I’ve come to learn it. In addition to my blog “Enjoying the Journey: Observations on the Fit Life” at www.leahruns100.com, my articles have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines. You can hear me as part of the 2015 Austin cast of Listen To Your Mother.

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