By Kate and Stephen
Lemongrass is one of the key ingredients (along with galangal, kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce and tamarind) that gives Thai food its distinctive flavor. It has a unique sweet/citrus/herbal taste that you really can’t get anywhere else. And lemongrass is hard as heck to find in Montgomery. They don’t sell the fresh stuff at Winn-Dixie or Publix or even Fresh Market out on the boulevard. What those stores do sell is a grotesque “substitute” that comes in a tube and claims to be lemongrass puree but has the unfortunate side effect of tasting both metallic and bland — and not in the slightest like lemongrass. Do not buy this stuff.
It turns out that lemongrass loves our climate here, is easy to root and grow and is super-prolific. It’s also fairly easy to get hold of. We buy ours once a year (lemongrass is hardy but will not survive in cold weather, much less freezing temperatures). We get it from the Oriental Food Mart, where Ann Street meets Madison. (An aside: the Oriental Food Mart may be poorly named, but in no way approached the flagrant false advertising of its neighboring restaurant, No. 1 China) The market has other good stuff including inexpensive baby bok choi, the good soy sauce (note: Soy sauce where “water” is not the first listed ingredient is always a million times better than the competition), big bags of rice and freezers full of various and tasty foods. But if it’s the lemongrass you’re after, just grab a bundle out of the refrigerator. This will cost $1.08. As long as the root ends haven’t been completely removed, you should be good to go.
Bring them home, trim off some of the tops, and put them root-down in a glass jar with some water. Put the jar in a sunny place and wait. After a few weeks they will root. Once there are well-established roots, all you need to do it take them outside and plant them in a group. Bury the roots a half inch or so below the surface and water ’em until the plants are established. By mid-summer your few lemongrass stalks will have morphed into dozens, and they will have leaves reaching four and five feet into the air. The leaves smell amazing and make great tea. When you trim them, your garden shears will smell faintly of lemon-scented Pledge. The tasty roots, as noted above, are used for cooking, and you can just slice them off at or just below the soil line.
Also, evidently lemongrass is a natural mosquito repellent, making it a welcome addition to any Montgomery yard, even if you’ve got no plans to whip up some tasty curries or noodle bowls anytime soon.
Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a dog, a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.