Lemon grass - Full of flavour

by Sanjeev Kapoor

Lemon grass is an ingredient that has caught the western imagination quite dramatically in recent years. Yet there was a time when this scented grass was little known outside south-east Asia, but today it is widely grown in many parts of the world. Some call it a herb, while others term it as grass but the fact remains that lemon grass is both of these!

My introduction to this flavourful herb was by way of tea. Yes it is widely referred as ‘chai patti’ for it is infused along with the regular tea leaves to give a brew that is extremely pleasant to taste and soothing and energizing too. Ever since I had my first sip of this ambrosia, my mornings usually begin with a cup of hot lemon grass tea. 

A native to India and also to other warm and temperate regions, the lemon grass 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 if not daily 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. And the best part is you can use lemon grass both, fresh or dried. 

The stems resemble fat spring onions (scallions). It is only when the stems are cut that the citrus aroma is fully released. It 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 lemon grass. 

Lemon 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 and 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. 

Lemon grass oil based perfumes, soaps and creams can help perk up your tired spirits. The Arabs are known to make perfumes using lemon grass mixed with sesame and cotton oil for fragrance. Ancient Greeks and Romans also used lemon grass for its scent and healing properties.

The Chinese are known to use lemon grass as a cure for many ailments - from rheumatic attack to headaches and stomach aches. It also has antibacterial and antifungal properties and 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.

Start your day with a sip of this soothing lemon grass flavoured masala chai. For the chai masala dry grind 16 black peppercorns, 1 inch stick of cinnamon, 4 cloves and 4 green cardamoms to a fine powder. Set aside to cool and then mix with 1 teaspoon of dry ginger powder. You can store this in airtight container to use whenever the mood strikes. And now to make the tea with the added flavour and goodness of lemon grass, boil 2 cups of milk and 2 cups of water in a deep pan. Add 4-5 small stalks of fresh lemon grass, 4 teaspoons tea leaves and ½ teaspoon of the above mentioned chai masala. Let the mixture boil for a minute or two and then add 4 teaspoons of sugar. Lower the heat and let it simmer for two minutes. Cover and keep for a minute. Strain and serve piping hot. 

website of the year 2013
website of the year 2014
website of the year 2016
MasterChef Sanjeev Kapoor

Chef Sanjeev Kapoor is the most celebrated face of Indian cuisine. He is Chef extraordinaire, runs a successful TV Channel FoodFood, hosted Khana Khazana cookery show on television for more than 17 years, author of 150+ best selling cookbooks, restaurateur and winner of several culinary awards. He is living his dream of making Indian cuisine the number one in the world and empowering women through power of cooking to become self sufficient. His recipe portal www.sanjeevkapoor.com is a complete cookery manual with a compendium of more than 10,000 tried & tested recipes, videos, articles, tips & trivia and a wealth of information on the art and craft of cooking in both English and Hindi.