New Beginnings: DIY Lemongrass for #LetsLunch

January 11, 2013 at 3:54 am 20 comments


Vietnamese-style chicken with lemongrass (Recipe below)

I fell in love with lemongrass early on, during my three years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand. These elegant, slender and sturdy stalks of a tropical grass provide a distinctive and delicate flavor to Southeast Asian soups, stews, curries, and other dishes, in kitchens from Indonesia to Thailand and from Vietnam to Burma. My introduction to this fragrant and delicately citrus-y herb was a Thai classic: Shrimp and Lemongrass Soup. This dish gives the subtle herb a place of honor amongst the fire of chilies and the bright tang of wild lime leaves and lime juice.

Thailand, lemongrass tends to be a homegrown herb, though it is also available in most any market. While it’s much easier to find here in the USA nowadays than it was in the 1980’s, when I came home hungry for Thai food and eager to cook it, I still love growing it each year. The plant has deep beauty, and an even more powerful flavor when homegrown.

A good bunch of fresh lemongrass from Whole Foods in Chapel Hill, NC

A good bunch of fresh lemongrass from Whole Foods in Chapel Hill, NC

#LetsLunch, a community of food bloggers who post on a chosen theme each month, picked “New Beginnings” as our January theme. I struggled to think of a subject, since I have been on this planet and cooking for a very long time, and I couldn’t think of a New Dish nor a New Cuisine that made sense. While gazing at the Christmas tree across the family room from my sink where I was doing dishes, I suddenly noticed my jar of lemongrass stalks, rooting away for my summertime cooking pleasure. A new beginning! In fact the climate here is mild enough that my lemongrass patch and pots could conceivably winter over; but I take pleasure in starting a whole new batch each year. The results are lovely and fresh, and I cherish the magic of creating an entirely new patch of this ethereal and lovely herb from ‘mother’ stalks I buy in the dead of winter.

Starting with trimmed stalks in a jar of water on your kitchen counter, you should have roots within a few weeks. By the time you are ready to consider setting it outside without concern over frost, your rooting stalks should be ready to plant in dirt. Here’s a look at a small batch of lemongrass stalks which I trimmed and put into water for rooting early in December.

Lemongrass stalks I've been rooting for several weeks.

Lemongrass stalks I’ve been rooting for several weeks.

Abundant roots, almost ready for planting in dirt

Abundant roots, almost ready for planting in dirt

Those rooted stalks, removed from their jar of water to give you a closer look. Their color changes from dull green or yellow, to bright vibrant green, as they begin to put out roots. Your homegrown lemongrass will be deeper in color and flavor, and less woody in texture, than what we can find in the store. Still tough and fibrous—-lemongrass is never tender and pleasing to eat directly, unless it is sliced paperthin. But the level of flavor will increase tremendously, compared to what we can buy from mainstream sources.

Usually I trim stalks shorter than these, but for this batch, I left them long.

Usually I trim stalks shorter than these, but for this batch, I left them long.
Lemongrass I purchased today, ready for trimming. The butter knife gives you an idea how big the stalks are.

Lemongrass I purchased today, ready for trimming. The butter knife gives you an idea how big the stalks are.

I've trimmed the bases, and then cut each stalk down to about the length of the knife handle. I pulled away and discarded several layers of dry, flavorless outer leaves.

I’ve trimmed the bases, and then cut each stalk down to about the length of the knife handle. I pulled away and discarded several layers of dry, flavorless outer leaves.

Here are trimmed stalks in water, ready for rooting. I'll change the water every few days, to keep it clear and fresh. New leaves will poke out of the cut edges as the roots begin to grow.

Here are trimmed stalks in water, ready for rooting. I’ll change the water every few days, to keep it clear and fresh. New leaves will poke out of the cut edges as the roots begin to grow.

That’s how to get your lemongrass garden, patch, or pot started. I’ll post again in a few weeks, when my new batch is ready for planting.


Inspiration here, for you lemongrass fans who wonder what the real thing looks like. Taken in Thailand in my town, Thatoom, this past summer, when I went out for an early morning stroll. Keep in mind: what you grow here will not match this glorious aabundance. Mine doesn’t get this wonderful — Lemongrass is happier in Thailand’s tropical paradise than it is here in North Carolina. But this patch serves a community of cooks and I easily grow more than I need each year. Lemongrass is happy here and does well, and I think you will love both growing it, and cooking with, later on in 2013.

Here’s my main lemongrass pot from 2012. I started with rooted stalks in the spring, March or April, and had plenty to cook with summer and fall. I left it outside as cold weather came on, and let it turn to dry, wintry straw. I will pull out and compost the dry stalky remains before beginning my 2013 pot outdoors, come spring.

My friends around the world have been posting #LetsLunch on our January theme: New Beginnings. Here are links to a lovely and inspiring array of recipes and commentary on our New Year theme. Thankful for our brilliant and generous #LetsLunch member, Pat Tanumijardja of The Asian Grandmother’s Cookbook, for orchestrating this month’s Lunch!

Enjoy this buffet of tasty _#LetsLunch Blogposts from my friends:

The Asian Grandmother’s Cookbook


Pat Tanumijardja

Vietnamese Fresh Spring Rolls


A Cook and Her Books 


Lucy Mercer

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies


Eating My Words  


Jill Warren Lucas

Heavenly Angel Food Cake


Food Nutzz…By Nature and Nurture


Sonja Bernyk

Fetta Varenyky


A Glass of Fancy



Brown Butter Creamed Chard and Spinach


Hapa Mama 


Grace Hwang Lynch

Homemade Matcha Green Tea Yogurt


Hot Curries and Cold Beer


Rashda Khan

Making Parathas with Mom


Monday Morning Cooking Club


Lisa Goldberg

Da Bombe Alaska


Spice Box Travels


Linda Shiue

Caribbean Style Black-Eyed Peas




Lemongrass Chicken, Vietnamese-Style 

Here’s my recipe for lemongrass chicken. It’s a simple, Vietnamese-inspired stir-fry to enjoy with rice or noodles as part of an Asian style meal, or with grits, couscous, tortillas or biscuits. Make it with 2 or 3 spoonsful of crushed chilies if you love the edible heat. While the New Beginning theme for this post inspired me to present my newly-begun lemongrass and how to grow your own batch, that doesn’t mean that you need to wait for your lemongrass to root, thrive, and be harvest-ready to make this dish. It’s wonderful with storebought lemongrass, which I buy and use often. Happy cooking!


1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, or chicken breast

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce

2 teaspoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 chopped fresh lemongrass (about 3 stalks, see Note)

1/4 cup chopped shallots or onion

1/3 cup chicken broth or water

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 teaspoon crushed dried red chili flakes

3 tablespoons chopped green onions

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

In a medium bowl, combine the chicken, soy sauce, and garlic, and stir to mix everything well. Set aside for 20 to 30 minutes (or cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day).In a small bowl, combine the Asian fish sauce, sugar, and salt, and stir well. In a blender or a small food processor, combine the lemongrass, shallots, and chicken broth or water. Blend to a fairly smooth puree, stopping to scrape down the sides and grind up any signifgant chunks of lemongrass.

Heat a large, deep skillet or a wok over high heat until very hot. Add oil and swirl to coat the pan. When a bit of green onion sizzles at once, scatter in the chicken and spread it out into a single layer. Let it cook for about 1 minute, until browned on one side and fragrant. Toss well and let cook until browned, about 1 minute more.

Add the lemongrass puree and toss well. Add the fish sauce mixture, toss well, and then cook, tossing occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through. Add the chili flakes and the green onions and toss well. Transfer to a serving plate, sprinkle with cilantro, and serve hot or warm. Serves 4 with rice and another vegetable dish or salad.


To prepare lemongrass, trim away the woody bottom end of 3 lemongrass stalks, to make a smooth base just under the bulge of the bulb. Cut away the grassy top portion, leaving a base about three inches long. Halve each stalk lengthwise, and then cut them very thinly crosswise into tiny pieces. Tumble the bits together, and then remove and discard any pieces which don’t have a purple tinge. (Purple color = flavor and aroma in lemongrass). You’ll need about 1/4 cup.

This recipe comes from Quick and Easy Vietnamese: 70 Everyday Recipes, by Nancie McDermott (Chronicle Books, 2006). Copyright @Nancie McDermott. All rights reserved.

Entry filed under: Classics, Ingredients, Recipes, Thailand, Travel. Tags: , , , , , , .

Can-Do Cookies: “White Mice” Stir-Fried Chili Scallops with Baby Bok Choy for #WokWednesdays

20 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Henrietta B.  |  January 11, 2013 at 5:26 am

    How brilliant! Kudos to you for taking such meticulous care of the lemongrass.:)

    • 2. Nancie McDermott  |  January 11, 2013 at 7:47 pm

      Thank you, Henrietta, so kind. I am not much of a gardener, but this is one plant that I have been able to grow for many years, in Southern California and now in North Carolina, with great rewards. Happy New Year to you!

  • 3. Rashda/Mina Khan (@SpiceBites)  |  January 11, 2013 at 11:19 am

    Ha! I love lemongrass and this is the perfect kitchen/garden project to start with my kids…thanks for sharing!
    Also, didn’t know you’d written a Vietnamese cookbook too…btw, just bought your Real Vegetarian Thai and can’t wait to cook out of it:)

    • 4. Nancie McDermott  |  January 11, 2013 at 7:48 pm

      What a wonderful project to begin with your kids early in the year! It’s such a pleasure, the way it looks throughout the process, and then the ways we can enjoy it once you’ve got your established patch. So glad you got RVT — made my day.

  • 5. Nathalie (@spacedlaw)  |  January 11, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    That was VERY interesting, thank you for this. I am based in Italy (Rome) and find it difficult to get lemongrass. How do you harvest it, once planted?

    • 6. Nancie McDermott  |  January 11, 2013 at 7:52 pm

      You plant it just below the surface of the dirt, so that each rooted ‘mother-stalk’ sends out stalks from its base. These grow just at the dirt-line (made-up word, bet there’s a better term) where you can reach in with a paring knife or boning knife and slice it free from the patch. I’ll post about that later in the spring, with photographs. I hope you can find enough stalks to get your own patch started. It would be so happy in the Roman sunshine, I think. Perhaps if you can find Thai restaurants in Rome, and get to know the owners, they might know of a source (or share some if they grow it at home).

  • […] DIY Lemongrass from Nancie McDermott. […]

  • 8. Lucy  |  January 12, 2013 at 1:35 am

    I’ve been told that lemon grass will winter over here in north Georgia. And now that I have your inspiring post and delicious recipe, Nancie, I will definitely give it a try, both the gardening the recipe!

    • 9. Nancie McDermott  |  January 12, 2013 at 3:00 am

      Thank you ,Lucy! So glad, and also grateful for your cookie recipe. This weekend, and my family will be so grateful. I’m with you; what an extraordinary and wonderful array of posts. Good lunch!

  • 10. sippitysup  |  January 12, 2013 at 2:24 am

    Really? You can root lemongrass? I always buy a bundle and need only an inch or two. What to do with the rest? Well now I know. Geez. I came here to say say thanks for being so sweet today. Instead I got a “sweet” tip. GREG

    • 11. Nancie McDermott  |  January 12, 2013 at 3:03 am

      This would the only thing in the culinary world you did not yet know, I’ll wager. My pleasure, and thanks for checking in. Happy New Year. And this reminds me, I want your BOOK! Lime green post it note now on counter: attention will be paid!

  • 12. spicebox travels  |  January 12, 2013 at 4:20 am

    How wonderful to have an abundance of lemongrass! I’m told the plant can also be a mosquito repellant, which could come in handy in lemongrass’s native climate. I adore the flavor of lemongrass and am glad to have your recipe to add to my collection.

    • 13. Nancie McDermott  |  January 14, 2013 at 12:12 am

      Yes, that’s correct! Lemongrass has many properties we humans love and appreciate, including medicinal uses as well as culinary. I’ve read that it has mosquito repelling properties, but while it was abundant in Thailand during my time there, we still depended on mosquito nets and mosquito incense coils to keep the critters at bay during their season. We have it on our back deck, and hope that it serves that purpose along with lighting up our kitchen!

  • 14. hapamamagrace  |  January 13, 2013 at 10:27 pm

    I love love lemongrass, but somehow never think about cooking with it at home, probably because the bunches at my local store don’t look that fresh. Now, I’m intrigued about planting it. I wonder if it’s a high water plant, though, being from the tropics?

    • 15. Nancie McDermott  |  January 14, 2013 at 12:07 am

      What I have found growing it in Southern California and now in North Carolina for a number of years, is that lemongrass is a forgiving and patient plant, which makes do with what nature and a haphazard gardener like myself dishes out. That can be neglect — but as a kind of grass, it wants to grow and thrive. I do water it in the summertime, but if we go away for long journeys, I don’t arrange for care, and if I get busy…it’s on its own. It gives up the ghost when cold weather comes; but other than ice and snow, I’ve had wonderful luck. This makes sense to me in terms of its powerful presence all over Southeast Asia. The enormous patches that you see in my photo from Thailand this summer would get abundant rainfall during the monsoon season, June – September; but the rest of the year, rain is rare, and it does just fine. As long as it’s got sun aplenty and rain sometimes, it’s beautiful and prolific.

  • 16. Pat  |  January 14, 2013 at 12:56 am

    Lemongrass is one of my favorite herbs too. I’ve never been successful at growing them probably because I’ve not lived in a warm enough(all year) climate! I’m going to try again!

    • 17. Nancie McDermott  |  January 14, 2013 at 3:41 am

      Pat, I’m not much of a gardener, but doing it this way has been rewarding and a pleasure. The long, lovely leaves which shoot up high and then fold back over make for a lovely plant, even if it’s only for admiring and not for cooking. Hope this time’s the charm.

  • 18. TravelEater  |  January 3, 2014 at 4:19 pm

    I’ve been looking for this recipe – thank you ! One if my favourite dishes:-)

  • […] Hot Curries and Cold Beer […]


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