#31 Lemongrass and pandan
Two herbs that give Southeast Asian food their unique flavor and aroma. We grow them. We cook with them.
I’ve been cooking with these two herbs all of last week so I figured I might as well feature them in the 31st newsletter. Granted, they’re not pretty plants. But we prefer delicious and aromatic over pretty so we prefer growing them than ornamentals.
Lemongrass (left photo) has a delightful citrusy aroma. It grows and propagates like grass. It grows shoots (the way bamboo and banana do) and, if left unmonitored, lemongrass can be invasive.
Pandan (right photo) is sweet, floral and nutty with a hint of grassiness. It grows like a spray. As the leaves mature, they get pushed to the sides to give way for new ones that grow at the center.
Are lemongrass and pandan edible?
The lower portion of the lemongrass stalk is the edible part of the plant. The upper portion, the part with spikelets that can irritate the skin, is not edible. But we learned in a cooking class in Thailand that the inedible portions may be added to soups and stews to impart flavor and aroma BUT you need to scoop them out before serving the food.
Pandan is not edible. It is used for flavor, aroma and color. If you just need the flavor and aroma, just drop them into whatever you’re cooking then remove before serving. Or wrap your food with pandan leaves before cooking. If you want all three — flavor, aroma and color — you need to make an extract.
Are lemongrass and pandan used in savory or sweet dishes?
Both. They’re even used to make drinks. Here are a few examples.
Lemongrass pandan chicken and rice - It looks like Hainanese chicken, it's served like Hainanese chicken, but the flavor and aroma couldn't be more different. Even the dipping sauce is unique. Get the recipe.
Air fried shrimp lemongrass skewers - Shrimps, ginger, garlic, onion, chili, cilantro roots and stems, and fish sauce are processed into a paste, wrapped around lemongrass stalks and air fried for 12 minutes. Get the recipe.
Thai hot and sour soup (tom saap) - It's nothing like Chinese hot and sour soup. Tom saap is lighter and brighter with lovely citrusy notes courtesy of lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. Get the recipe.
Indonesian yellow rice (nasi kuning) - Because the cooked dish resembles a mound of gold, nasi kuning is often served during festivals and celebratory occasions. But this home version is easy enough to make and enjoy any day of the year. Get the recipe.
Thai-style dry beef curry - It's curry with no sauce and it's one of the most famous dishes in southern Thailand. Called khua kling in the local language, dry curry is cooked with lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and chili. Get the recipe.
Pomelo and lemongrass salad - Fresh pomelo, thinly sliced lemongrass, Thai basil, mint, cilantro and chunks of crispy fried fish are tossed with a dressing made with palm sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, cilantro stems and chilies. Get the recipe.
Pandan crepes with coconut and palm sugar filling (kuih dadar) - A popular snack in Malaysia, the crepes are made with coconut milk and fresh pandan extract. The filling is a mixture of melted palm sugar and freshly grated coconut. Get the recipe.