Secret ingredient: Lemongrass

Lemongrass, a key ingredient in Thai cuisine, often goes unnoticed by those savoring its delicate flavors. This herb, a grass native to South and Southeast Asia, from India to the Philippines, is integral to various Asian culinary traditions. Resembling bushy clumps, lemongrass has pale green, woody stalks with bulbous, lighter-colored bases, somewhat akin to green onions in appearance. Its fibrous texture is coupled with a subtle citrusy taste that enhances a myriad of dishes. Lemongrass is versatile — it can be used whole, chopped or ground into a paste, contributing a nuanced yet distinct flavor and aroma to curry pastes, sauces, marinades, broths, soups and even beverages. To delve deeper into the culinary applications of lemongrass, we consulted Sue Marzulli, chef and owner of Thai Food By Madame Sue, who shared her extensive knowledge and experience with this aromatic herb.

How to get it

Lemongrass comes in a few different forms, including dried and frozen, but as with most aromatics, the fresh stalks are the most potent and versatile. Marzulli grows lemongrass in her garden. But you can usually find lemongrass in the grocery store; it just may not be as large. Dried lemongrass, sold as whole sections of the stalk, sliced pieces or powder, can be found in the spice or herb section at Asian groceries and many larger markets as well as online. You also can buy the stalks and bulbs frozen.

How to prepare it

To prepare lemongrass, start by peeling the stiff outer leaves away from the stalk to reveal the slightly softer under layers. Slice the grass in two spots, about half an inch from the root and approximately three inches up, where the whitish color begins to turn green. The pale lower section of the lemongrass is the meatiest bit. Even so, it must be sliced thin and then finely chopped, pounded into a paste with a mortar and pestle, grated with a box grater or tossed in a food processor so that it isn’t too tough to chew.

Once minced or pounded, lemongrass can be added to marinades or grilled meats for a touch of sweet, citrusy flavor or used to brighten curry pastes and simple sauces. Powdered lemongrass works here too. While only the lower bulb of the lemongrass stem is edible, every portion of the stalk has a role to play in the kitchen. The fibrous upper section of the stalk is full of tons of lemony, gingery goodness. To release the flavorful oils, flatten the lemongrass stalk with a cleaver or the side of a large knife. Fresh lemongrass stalks work best in dishes like soups and slow-roasted meats that simmer for long periods of time. Extensive simmering or roasting is also the best use for dry lemongrass, which rehydrates as it cooks. Like with bay leaves, remove the lemongrass stalks from the dish before serving. 

Drink up

Lemongrass stalks work in drinks too. They not only make a mean cocktail stirrer, but they can infuse spirits with almost no effort at all. Throw a lemongrass stalk or two in a bottle of vodka, and let it sit for a week before drinking for a delightful infused beverage. 

Despite it being great in cocktails, it’s a perfect, healthy drink ingredient, too. In some parts of the world, lemongrass is treasured for its health benefits. When brewed into a tea, the plant is considered an immunity-boosting treatment for a wide variety of ailments including gastrointestinal distress, fever and asthma.

Thai Food By Madame Sue – Lemongrass drink

Lemongrass drink


5 large stalks lemongrass

2 1/2 cups water

3 tablespoons palm sugar

Large pinch salt

Fresh lime


[1] Cut lemongrass into thin slices. Add to a saucepan with the water and simmer for 7-8 minutes. [2] Mix in the palm sugar and stir to dissolve. Allow to cool and strain out the lemongrass. [3] Serve with plenty of ice.

Thai food by Madame Sue

“Remember, this lemongrass juice is meant to be quite sweet. Serve it with lots of ice on a hot day or alongside spicy food to soothe the fire in your mouth. If your lemongrass stalks are piddly supermarket-sized, increase the quantity.”  – Chef Sue Marzulli

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