Fresh lemongrass, fish sauce, delicata squash, and cilantro make this a flavor-packed Vietnamese curry good for any night of the week.
I don't know about you, but this year I'm celebrating even the smallest of victories. And successfully growing lemongrass in my garden this summer is one of them.
I hadn't had luck with lemongrass in the past. But since we were all looking for things to do this past spring, I bought a packet of seeds and figured why not give it another try. This time, it worked.
Lemongrass is typically a tropical perennial plant, so it's not well-equipped to survive our harsh Vermont winters. That's why I'll try potting a few stalks from outside and attempt to keep it alive until I can plant it back out in the spring. I'm not the best with houseplants, but I've read that lemongrass does well when treated like one.
If you find lemongrass stalks in the grocery store or have a friend willing to share their plant, it’s easy to propagate. Stick the stalks in water until they root, then plant in a pot of soil. Side shoots will grow if kept near a sunny window.
how to cook with lemongrass
I'm only just getting around to experimenting with my lemongrass this fall. Although the tall grassy plant appears dried out, the outer layers peel away to reveal a tender green stalk inside. The bright lemon scent it gives off as you cut and bruise the plant is especially welcome as winter looms, and most of the garden is dying out. For cooking, you only use the bottom few inches of the plant. The leaves and upper portions are for composting.
Lemongrass is good for flavoring soups, so I guess my timing isn’t too bad. The easiest way to impart flavor to a soup is to bruise the plant with the back of your knife as you would crush a clove of garlic. Or use a heavy object, like a can or bottle. Add the pieces to the soup as it cooks, then remove before serving. For other uses, such as stir-fries, you can thinly slice lemongrass and add it in at the start of cooking.
getting to know Vietnamese cuisine
Lemongrass is a prominent herb in Vietnamese cooking, where their cooking philosophy focuses on balance. There’s an attention to the balance of flavors, colors, and textures in their cuisine, and it just makes sense. There’s also a focus on fresh ingredients, especially vegetables, and herbs. I’m finding the little I have explored with Vietnamese cooking to be particularly appealing to how I like to cook.
Vietnamese curry (ca ri ga)
In terms of this chicken curry recipe called ca ri ga in Vietnamese, you can see the balance in flavor. The curry powder and paste offer some spiciness; the fish sauce lends sourness; the sugar provides sweetness; the lemongrass adds bitterness, and the broth has saltiness. These are the five basic tastes present in most Vietnamese dishes.
If you don’t have fresh lemongrass, look for lemongrass paste that comes in tubes in grocery stores. This is the next best option. But if neither of those is available to you, you can use dried. However, the flavor could be less noticeable in a soup like this.
Any winter squash may be substituted for the delicata. I like delicata because it’s a smaller squash that’s easy to cut and has edible skin. They’re less fussy. I love to serve this over thin rice noodles, though other noodles or cooked rice are fine, too.
I adapted this recipe from the Pike Place Market Recipes cookbook by Jess Thomson.Print