A tall, fragrant member of the grass family Cymbopogon, lemon grass is a signature flavor in the foods of Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.
It is native to India, where it's used in curry powder. It also grows well in Florida and California, and is available domestically in well-stocked groceries and Asian markets.
You can purchase lemon grass powder, but cooking with fresh stalks gives much better results. Look for stalks that are fragrant and tightly formed, and avoid those that are turning brown or coming apart.
Pull away tough outer leaves and cut off the bottom of the bulb. The fleshy, yellowish part of the shoot is relatively tender and can be finely chopped for recipes. The woody green upper part can be simmered in soups and curries to infuse flavor but is generally discarded at the table. The leaves can be steeped for tea.
Lemon grass contains citral, an essential oil found in lemons to a lesser degree. At Ben Gurion University in Israel, scientists administered citral to both normal cells and cancer cells. In concentrations roughly equivalent to the amount of citral in a cup of lemon grass tea, the cancer cells "committed suicide," while normal cells remained vital -- a remarkable feat of selective toxicity.
Benny Zabidov, Israel's only major lemon grass grower, was subsequently inundated with requests from cancer patients, whom he now greets with plates of cookies and cups of aromatic lemongrass tea.
GRILLED VEGETABLES AND PORK CHOPS
Serve with Texas pecan rice or jasmine rice. This recipe is adapted from Karen Adler and Judith Fertig's The BBQ Queens' Big Book of Barbecue (Harvard Common Press, 2005).
1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh lemon grass
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
1 small red chile or jalapeno, trimmed, seeded and finely chopped
1 teaspoon Asian fish sauce
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Vegetables and pork:
4 (6-ounce) center-cut pork chops
1 large onion, cut into wedges
2 yellow or red bell peppers, cored, seeded and cut into wedges
To prepare marinade, mix all ingredients together. Marinade will keep, covered, in the refrigerator up to 1 week.
To prepare vegetables, combine half the marinade with vegetables in large zip-top plastic bag. To prepare meat, combine remaining marinade with pork chops in large zip-top plastic bag. Refrigerate vegetables and meat 30 minutes to 8 hours.
Drain vegetables and pork chops. Grill about 15 minutes or until lightly browned.
NUTRITION PER SERVING: 240 calories, 9 grams fat, 27 grams protein, 10 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 620 milligrams sodium.
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