The Subtle Joys of Lemongrass

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Lemongrass is one of our favourite herbs, adding a subtle yet distinctive lemony fragrance to much of the cuisine that hails from Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Sri Lanka and India. Basically, if you want to cook a curry or soup or stew with coconut milk, you’d better not forget the lemongrass!The lemongrass plant, Cymbopogon Citratus, is a member of the same family as citronella, (C. Nardus ) and while both have the distinctive lemony aroma, C. Nardus is best left for insect repellent, candles and aromatherapy, and it is C. Citratus that is best used in culinary applications. In The Philippines, where lemongrass is a native shrub, it is known as tanglad, but depending on your locale, is also referred to as barbed wire grass, silky heads and fever grass.

 

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The lemongrass plant makes an attractive shrub, the stalks of a mature plant often exceeding six feet in length. But it is the plump, magenta-streaked base where all the good stuff is. Cut on the bias like a leek, this is what you will want to use, fresh or dried, when cooking, while the tougher, stalks are still great for flavouring stocks and soups. If you can’t get a hold of fresh lemongrass, don’t despair, you can soak dried lemongrass and it works nicely too, especially if it is used in a braise or soup.

Speaking of which, okay last week the daytime temperature in Toronto was twenty degrees celcius, today it is five. This can mean only one thing. It’s time to take the air-conditioner out of the window and put on a big pot of soup. We’re talking Carrot Lemongrass soup here, a favourite recipe from Lynne Crawford’s wonderful cookbook from 2017, Farm to Chef, Cooking Through The Seasons. This magical soup gives you the goodness of carrots and ginger, always such a winning combination, with the match-made-in-heaven pairing of lemongrass and coconut milk. Simultaneously luscious and subtle, garnished with a little fresh cilantro, what could be more welcoming and comforting?

 

"We were meant to be together"

“We were meant to be together”

 

This may just be the perfect soup for fall, especially if you are feeling a little overwhelmed by turkey soup and the pie spice flavours of pumpkin and squash soups. This delicious soup is as irresistible as it is simple to make, and, bonus, you could easily make it vegan just by substituting a good veg. stock in lieu of chicken stock, and use a plant- based margarine or coconut oil for the butter called for in Chef Lynn’s recipe.

 

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Lynn Crawford’s Carrot lemongrass soup

2 tbsp unsalted butter

1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup diced yellow onion

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tbsp minced lemongrass

1 tbsp minced serrano chili

2 tsp chopped peeled fresh ginger

1 orange, zest and juice only

4 cups carrots, peeled and cut crosswise into ½-inch (1 cm) pieces

4 cups chicken stock

1 14-oz. can full-fat coconut milk

Kosher salt and cracked black pepper

In a large pot over medium heat, melt butter. Stir in oil, onion, garlic, lemongrass, chili and ginger. Cook until onions soften, about 10 minutes. Add orange zest and juice, carrots, stock and coconut milk. Cover and cook until carrots are very tender, about 25 minutes. Working in batches, transfer soup to a blender and purée. Return soup to pot and heat thoroughly. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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