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Slice of Life

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Lemongrass adds citrus flare to dishes

In a theater production or movie, the major character typically has a sidekick, a buddy, or antagonist that is in place to showcase the talent of the lead. Such is the case with lemongrass in the food world.

Lemongrass is a very versatile plant and can be integrated into just about any recipe from appetizers to desserts. This subtle Asian centric plant offers a subtle citrusy lemon-like flavor to any and all dishes it’s used.

These days lemongrass has become mainstream and often available at farm stands and in the produce section of more upscale or urban grocery stores.

To use lemongrass in marinades, a stir fry, salads, curry or baked item, you will need to trim the top and base of the stalks and then peel off any dry or tough outer layers. You should only use the bottom 4 inches or so. The lemongrass flavor becomes more intense the longer it’s cooked so if you want a strong lemongrass flavor; add it at the beginning of your cooking. For a lighter more subtle lemongrass flavor, add it at the very end of your cooking.

Saigon Chicken Salad

1 cup chopped fresh cilantro

5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons lemongrass stalk, finely chopped

3 large lime leaves, minced or substitute 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice and 1/2 teaspoon grated lime peel for each lime leaf.

1/2 cup olive oil

Kosher salt

Pepper

1 1/4 pounds skinless boneless chicken breast halves

5 tablespoons fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam) or soy sauce

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

2 teaspoons minced jalapeno or Serrano chilies with seeds

2 teaspoons minced garlic

3 cups Chinese long beans or green beans, cut into bite-sized pieces, blanched

8 ounces tomatoes, seeded and cut into strips

1 cup coarsely grated peeled daikon (Japanese white radish) or trimmed red radishes

1 cup coarsely grated seeded English cucumbers

1 cup thinly sliced green cabbage

1 cup coarsely grated carrot

1 cup minced celery

1 cup fresh cilantro leaves

3 green onions, thinly sliced on diagonal

1/2 cup salted roasted peanuts

In a bowl combine the cilantro, lemon juice, lemongrass and lime leaves and whisk to combine. Gradually whisk in the oil. Season with salt and pepper. Arrange chicken in single layer in a glass baking dish. Pour the marinade over the chicken flipping it once to coat evenly. Cover and chill 3 hours. In a heated grill pan cook the chicken (with a tablespoon or two of marinade). Cook 4 to 6 minutes per side. Remove from heat, cool and cut into strips. Set aside.

In a bowl combine the fish sauce, brown sugar, lime juice, chiles and garlic. Whisk until the sugar dissolves. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and let stand at room temperature; whisk before using.

Place the blanched beans in large bowl. Add the tomatoes, daikon, cucumbers, cabbage, carrot, celery, cilantro leaves, green onions and most of peanuts. Toss to combine. Add the chicken and dressing; toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mound salad on large rimmed platter. Sprinkle with remaining peanuts and serve.

Serves 8.

– Modified from a recipe by Kajsa Alger of Street in Los Angeles

Spicy Thai Soup

4 lemongrass stalks, bottom two-thirds of tender inner bulbs only, thinly sliced

5 1/4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 1/4 (4 inch) pieces fresh ginger root, chopped

5 1/3 cups chicken broth

1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon vegetable oil

3 1/4 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs cut into chunks

1 pound fresh white mushrooms, quartered

2 3/4 teaspoons red curry paste

1/4 cup fish sauce

2 tablespoons lime juice

2 3/4 (14 ounce) cans coconut milk

1 1/4 red onion, sliced

5/8 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped

2 3/4 lime, cut into wedges, for serving

1 1/4 fresh jalapeño pepper, sliced into rings

Stir lemongrass, garlic and ginger together in a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Stir in chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.

Strain chicken broth and set aside. Discard lemongrass, garlic and ginger.

Heat vegetable oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Stir in chicken; cook and stir for 5 minutes. Stir in mushrooms and cook for 5 more minutes. Stir in red curry paste, fish sauce and lime juice until combined. Stir in chicken broth and coconut milk; return to a simmer and cook on low for 15 to 20 minutes. Skim off any excess oil and fat that rises to the top and discard. Stir red onion into the chicken mixture; cook and stir until onion softens, about 5 minutes. Move from heat and add about 1/2 the cilantro. Serve with plates of cilantro, lime wedges and fresh sliced jalapeños.

Serves 8.

– Modified from About.com

Slice of Life is a food column that offers recipes, cooking advice and information on new food products. It appears Sundays. If you have a question about cooking or a food item, contact Eileen Goltz at eztlog@gmail.com or write The Journal Gazette, 600 W. Main St., Fort Wayne, IN 46802.

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