These three lemongrass stalks have been rooting in water for about two weeks now. Note the deepening green color of the base of each stalk, and the optimistic leaf shooting out of the top of each one. No roots yet, but that will come soon. Yesterday I bought a bundle of stalks at my local Whole Foods market, so that I can get a whole chorus going. Now that I’m nurturing my 2009 crop, I keep thinking of delicious uses for the summertime bounty of lemongrass. Vietnamese-style lemongrass chicken comes first, a chili-kissed stir-fry we adore with rice and cucumber salad. Nahm takrai is a fresh lemongrass beverage that I learned to make at a lovely restaurant in Chiangmai on a research trip to Thailand. It puts the long, sword-shaped leaves to glorious use, and takes the edge off summer heat in the most refreshing way. Add Thai curry pastes and the two signature Thai soups, tome yum and tome kah, and it becomes very difficult to wait for my lemongrass garden to grow. But I can do that — gardening is good for the soul as well as for the dinner table. In Thailand, our lemongrass never went out of season—it was always warm enough, even in the cold season, to keep a lemongrass patch going. Here I’ll keep changing the water every couple of days to keep it clear, and look forward to the fruits of this tiny bit of labor.
Nancie McDermott is a food writer and cooking teacher, and the author of fourteen cookbooks. Her passion is researching and celebrating traditional food in its cultural context, and her beloved subjects are two seemingly different places with much in common: the cuisines of Asia and of the American South. Nancie gained her Southern kitchen wisdom as a Piedmont North Carolina native, and her Asian culinary research commenced soon after college, when she was sent to northeastern Thailand as a Peace Corps volunteer.