What I like the most is the infinite variety of contrasts and harmonies of taste, smell, and textures, which when skillfully prepared, creates the unmistakable flavors of these ancient cuisines.
Of course, if you’ve developed a yen for the dishes of this region, you’re no doubt a big fan of many of the distinctive ingredients that form the foundation of many of their flavors.
Many ingredients are obvious and would make anyone’s top-10 list. Among those would be soy and teriyaki sauce, rice, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, mirin, miso, 5 spice, chilies, cilantro…and the list continues.
Of what I’ll call the “2nd tier” list, there’s one herb I particularly love.
Although its leaves look quite “un-leaf-like,” the long, slender leaves of this stalk-like grass have an unmistakable smell and (especially) FLAVOR, which makes it one of the most important ingredients in Thai cooking.
Lemongrass, as its name suggests, is blessed with the unmistakable (and somewhat potent) flavor of lemony citrus. It’s used in soups, sauces, marinades, dressings; on fresh fruit; in sweets of many kinds; and even in tea.
Lemongrass is a greenish, yellow-grey stalk, generally about a foot long and about a half inch in diameter at its base, tapering upward. Although you can purchase it dried, there’s no sense in doing that when fresh lemongrass is readily available at Nino’s. The main reason is because it’s so easy to use, but the flavor of fresh is SO much better; do yourself the favor.
So just how do you use Lemongrass?
Easy peasy…. 1. Peel away any old, dry outer leaves. 2. Cut about the top third of the stalk off and discard. 3. Trim the bottom ¼ inch off and discard. 4. Slice in half lengthwise and then into thin ¼ discs (about 1/8th inch thick).
Lemongrass is very fibrous and is often finely minced (like ginger) to extract is volatile oils and flavors and make the resulting pulp easier to enjoy. It’s used both fresh and cooked.
If you’ve never used Lemongrass and you like citrus flavors, you really should give it a try. Here’s a recipe I think you’ll enjoy as a starter.
My Thai Lemongrass Dressing and Marinade is a fantastic standalone dressing over fresh greens and fruits, but it’s also a marvelous marinade for chicken and fish. Just allow the meat or fish (or even shellfish) to rest in this marinade for 1 to 2 hours, and then sear or grill.
You can brush additional marinade over while cooking.