Lemongrass or takrai in Thai is an aromatic (some say minty) herb with a lemony flavor. In fact, you can say that this is another one of the core ingredient in Thai cooking as it is used extensively in many of the dishes like curries, spicy soups and yum salads.
If you want the convenience and the freshest takrai possible, do like what I am doing - grow your own. It is an easy plant to grow in tropical climate areas as it needs lots of sunshine and water. In cooler climate areas, it is best to grow it around parts of your house where the plant will receive maximum sunlight.
I have got my plant growing in the ground but you can just as easily grow it in a large pot. When I buy takrai, I cut a few stalks down to about 12 cm and just stick them straight into ground during the warmer months.
When the plant matures, clip the bottom of the plant as close as possible to the soil but be careful of the leaf blade as it can give you a nasty cut. After harvesting, clip off the leaves, leaving about 25 cm of the stalk and store by wrapping in newspapers. Keep in the vegetable compartment of your fridge and it should keep for a month or so.
So, how is it used it Thai Food and Thai Cooking?
1. Only the bottom white-yellow part is normally pounded with other ingredients using mortar and pestle or blended in a food processor, to make pastes for Thai curries.
2. In soups, you can opt to use the full stalk. Bruise it slightly with the flat part of your cleaver and then slice it diagonally -- it can then be added to Thai spicy soups like Tom Yum, Tom Kha or Po Taek (a seafood soup). Doing this will give the soup a more exotic flavor.
3. Again using only the bottom
white-yellow part, slice finely and it can be added to salads - seafood
yum salads like Yum Talay, Thai beef salads like Nur Nam Tok, minced
chicken salad like Larb Gai to bring out the unique texture of Thai
You can easily find lemongrass readily available in Asian grocery stores but it is also getting more and more common to find them in health food stores. I do not recommend using substitutes like the combination of lemon zest/rind with ginger or the powdered form. The powdered form is preferable to be used as a kind of herbal drink.
Lemongrass has been used in traditional herbal medicine as it is known to have medicinal properties. It has often been known to reduce fever, abdominal pain, cold and flu symptoms, treat anxiety, insomnia, stomach cramps and indigestion, vomiting, hypertension and fever but I find it is fantastic to get rid of wind and flatulence -- lol --- (Believe me -- it works!)