Tham Jiak means in some way "love to eat" in Hokkien. I am a Malaysian Hokkien and truly love to eat.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Weekend Herb Blogging - Lemongrass

It has been a while since I’ve been blogging. This had certainly been a busy week and it whizzed pass in no time. Nevertheless, I have still kept on cooking and baking, experimenting in the kitchen. Somehow cooking is therapeutic to me. No matter how long I spent the day inside that tiny little space of mine, I somehow emerge from there feeling victorious. Yes, even after a bunch of burnt cookies.

No matter how busy one is, we always have time for food. The first thing we thought of when we wake up is what to have to break the fast. It might not be breakfast, as sometimes (or usually) I break my fast with lunch. Ah, lazy me. Then in due time we would be thinking what to have for dinner. Such gluttony! But aren’t human born to live like that?

Anyway, to keep this post short and to rumble back to my busy dailies, I would continue on about the main thing you must be asking, “Where is the herb?” Pardon my long windedness, so here goes this week’s herb, Lemongrass (Serai).

This particular herb is featured mainly in Thai, Malay and Nonya cuisines, giving an instant lift to any food. Lemongrass is one herb that leaves a sweet lemony smell to your fingers after you cut it and it will instantly jazz up your spice mixes once grinded or pounded to release the aroma. It is widely used especially in cooking curries, soup (like the famous Thai Tom Yum soup that relies practically on this herb) and other spice mixing recipes. It can also be used in making of drinks like tea or honey. I once had honey lemongrass drink with the herb stalk itself used to stir the drink, exotic and certainly refreshing.

The recipe that I will be showing using this sweet herb is from the Nonya cuisine. Nonya is basically the people from the marriage between the Chinese and Malay, creating a new generation of Peranakan. Although they are half Chinese, these Peranakan had adopted Malay culture wholly with a little of their own influences, causing a new hybrid of culture that they call their own. These generations of people are prominent from Penang and Malacca but it is in Malacca that is left with many remnants of it. When one culture is created, most certainly a new cuisine of its kind emerged. Nonya cuisines are fusion of Chinese and Malay cuisines with Thai and Indonesia influences. There is an extensive explanation of Nonya cuisine over at Malaysian Food, if you are inclined to know more.

Well, I suppose this following recipe of mine must be of Thai influence with the usage of lemongrass, and it is a little bit spicy with a strong smell of belachan(shrimp paste), another acquired taste food. When frying the belachan, one is bound to be caught up with the strong aroma rising which would choke right up the nose, down the nasal to the throat. I’m not kidding here! I can still remember the days when my Nanny cook up a storm of Sambal Belachan (chilly fried with belachan paste), the whole house would be choking in the strong aroma. But secretly we would be smiling with glee anticipating what would appear on the dinner table next. Well, after a nasal war just now, I whipped up a sour fishy Nonya dish.

Ikan Assam (Spicy Fish in Tamarind)

Source: Female Appetite (Edition 1)

I did not have ginger flower and had omitted eggplants and lady’s fingers, adding more tomatoes instead, but I guess with those, it would had been much more flavourful and of course much more colourful. I ran out of lime thus added more tamarind for the sourness. I had also added 1 inch of Galangal (Lengkuas) just for fun, as I feel it would be appropriate, ah a cook’s whim.

4 tbsp oil
15g tamarind paste
500ml water
1 eggplant, julienned
1 tomato, cut in wedges
4 lady’s fingers
400g fish fillet
2 tbsp lime juice
Salt and sugar to taste

To grind:
30g dried prawns
20g shallots
30g onions
2cm belachan (shrimp paste)
20g dried chillies
20g red chillies
1 stalk lemongrass
1 stalk ginger flower

Heat wok over high flame, add oil and lower the flame.
Sitr in grounded ingredients and tamarind paste until aroma arises
Add water and bring to boil
Reduce heat and add eggplant, tomato and lady’s fingers. Cook for about 10 minutes before adding the fish.
When fish is cooked, add lime juice, salt and sugar.

Serves 4 - 6 (depending on edacity of guests)

Note: This spicy dish tasted much much better overnight (we got plenty leftovers) and reheated, the complex flavours developed more and had taken it to a whole new level. So next time, I would cook it and leave it soaking at least few hours first before devouring.

Update: Check out the list of herbs for this week over at Kalyn's.


Kalyn said...

This recipe sounds amazing. I love lemongrass in Thai and Vietnamese dishes in restaurants here, but I don't see it for sale fresh very often. I do buy the dried lemongrass stalks from Penzeys and use them in soup. Not as good, but not too bad as a substitute for the real thing. As usual, your recipe sounds just wonderful.

rokh said...

kalyn, glad you like the recipe. do try it out if you ever get your hands on fresh lemongrass, they are certainly refreshing!

Tazz said...

After reading your post then I realised that another name for Lengkuas is galangal and not galagal. Thanks! ;)

rokh said...

tazz, no probs. as you say, we are all learning here

boo_licious said...

ooo, that looks so yummy esp with a plate of white rice.

mg said...

Hi Rokh,

Thanks for the recipe for this. I can get fresh lemongrass here which i often use for Thai curries.

Your post has officially made me seriously hungry and am now craving for some really hot (chillified) fish curry. And with the eggplants and okra added, this is double thumbs up for me. Now, where do i get some ginger flower?! Can i omit this?

paz said...

What a wonderful sounding dish!


rokh said...

boo, rice is lovely soaking up all the gravy!

mae, i also omitted ginger flower and added galangal instead. i guess it would not affect the taste much.

paz, thanks!

*kel said...

hiyee, i just experimented with lemongrass powder. Do you think they work the same? What is this weekend herb blogging thingy? I saw that Kalyn has the same feature too...

rokh said...

kel, i'm not too sure about the lemongrass powder, as i do not have it. the weekend herb blogging thingy is every weekend we would blog about a herb, send the link to kalyn and she will round it all up. you can read the details over at kalyn.

Barbara Fisher said...

Hey, rokh! I love lemongrass.

I like to slip it, along with fresh galangal, into Chinese style hot and sour soup. Those two additions bring a lot of depth to it and while some folks cannot tell what I have done to the recipe, they usually like it a lot.

I have also used lemongrass and galangal in tea when I have a cold. They seem to make a dry throat feel better.

rokh said...

barbara, the idea of using those in tea seems wonderful. will try it out. thanks.

gina said...

rachel, there are 3 types of dried chilli sold in Singapore. the regular large red ones, the small chilli padi and also the Cherry chillies. if you managed to get your hands on dried cherry chillies, do try it with this Assam dish..its very fragrant. I am using it for my laksa pastes these days.

rokh said...

gina, i wonder how cherry chillies look like?

Anonymous said...

I have lemon grass here (in Canada) and would like to use it in making a Martini. However, I see that all the preceding recipes use it in cooking. How to use it to add flavour to a drink? And to use the complere stock, or the inner, or the outer parts ?
Any suggestions welcome

rokh said...

hi tork, maybe you can try bruising the stalk and then add it into the drink, let stand to infuse the flavours. you can also serve it as a stirer for the drink and also as presentation and for flavour, like how we serve drinks with lemon slices. hope you have fun trying out!

Tork said...

I tried a stalk about 8cm long; made 4 cuts lengthwise, then wrapped in plastic and bruised it well with a rubber hammer. Magnificent.
Thanks for the suggestion.

rokh said...

hi tork, glad you had been successful. you're most welcome

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