November 11, 2010

The Trouble with Cooking Lemon Grass is...

So, I had been dying to make a super cool recipe from my copy of Art of the Slow Cooker called Curried Coconut Chicken Soup. It called for lemon grass, which I couldn't find anywhere around Emerald Isle or Jacksonville.

I was finally able to find what I thought would be a decent compromise at a mid-range grocery store last week:

Ah yes, the "herb blend." I bought it because I was frustrated by searching for the real thing and having produce section attendants look at me like I was high or, at least, highfalutin when I asked if they ever carried lemon grass.

I paid in frustration, and, once home, proceeded to check the ingredients. This is literally the exact opposite of all healthy eating advice I've ever heard. Anyway, here's what I found:

Lemon Grass, Canola Oil, Dextrose, Whey (milk), 
Sodium Lactate, Glycerine, Fructose, Salt, Maltodextrin, 
Sodium Ascorbate to help protect flavor, 
Citric Acid to promote color retention, 
Zantham Gum, Ascorbic Acid to promote color retention

Jeesh. That's a lot of crap. But wait! There's more! Because when I looked just below the list of ingredients, what did I spy? 


So, I had not only purchased a faux-herb blend. I had also endorsed the practice of making said herb blend and flying it HALFWAY AROUND THE WORLD. Great. Really green of me.

Luckily, I happened to be near a Harris Teeter two days ago, and found the real thing in its lovely, enormous, and wonderfully-lit produce department. I bought twice the amount the recipe called for, and headed home, wondering what on earth I was going to do with the "herb blend" sitting in my fridge.

And then I discovered why cooking with lemon grass is a bit of a pain.

See the nice, thick stalks of lemon grass at the bottom of the picture? Now, see the reeeeally skinny stalks at the top of the picture? That's all you get. The outer layer of lemon grass is so tough that, unless you boil the entire thing for a few hours to get lemon grass stock (and who doesn't want that?), you probably only end up consuming about 1/8th of each actual stalk if you're just going to chop it up for a soup or a stir fry.

See that? It's all trash. Very frustrating.

So here's my problem: when it comes to lemon grass (which is, truly, a delicious flavor), our options are either to pay a billion dollars for enough fresh stalks to yield something substantial, or to pay a million dollars for a bunch of yuck to be flown halfway around the world for us.

This seems stupid. No?

Anyway, my soup ended up delicious, even if I couldn't really taste the lemon grass all that much. This was one of those classic endeavors that make T have a panic attack every time he thinks about our food budget.

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