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The Use of Lemongrass in Vietnamese Cuisine Posted by on Nov 8, 2021 in Culture, Foods, Vocabulary

If you are familiar with Vietnamese cuisine, you would know that they use all different kinds of herbs in daily cooking. One of the most versatile herbs that I use very often in my kitchen is lemongrass. Today, I would like to share with you the love I have for this very wonderful, useful, yet inexpensive herb.

Xả (lemongrass) is one of the must-have ingredients in many popular Vietnamese dishes. It is also used in drinks and for medicinal purposes.

There is a reason why its name is “lemongrass” in English. It grows like a big bush of grass and it has a fresh lemon and peppery scent.  The taste, however, is mildly sweet, not sour like lemon. You can easily find cây xả tươi (fresh lemongrass stalks) or xả bằm đông lạnh (frozen chopped lemongrass) in any Asian market. The best part of the xả plant that is most commonly used in cuisine is the first few inches right above the roots of the plant, or the whole stalk between the roots and the leaves, if it’s just used as flavoring to be discarded.

CULINARY USES

I like all dishes that have xả in it. Let me list some very popular Vietnamese dishes that require xả in them.

  • Bún bò huế (Huế’s beef noodle soup): As I am writing this, I’m drooling for this spicy soup, especially on the cold day like today. The use of xả stalks is a must in it. The stalks are steeped in the broth to extract the flavor and then discarded before serving. This soup is one of the central region’s signature cuisines. Huế is the old Capitol city of Vietnam and its classic cultural center.
  • kho (Beef stew): For this dish, xả stalks are also a must ingredient. The stalks are steeped in the stew and discarded before serving. Besides beef cubes, carrots are main ingredient, some people, like my mother, would even add potato cubes into it. It is traditionally served with either French bread or noodles.
  • Gà rang xả (Pan-fried lemongrass chicken): Like the name suggests, it uses a lot of xả băm (chopped/minced lemongrass). The chicken is marinated in a lot of xả băm along with other seasoning.

BEVERAGE USES

The use of xả in beverages is endless. You can find xả as an ingredient in some kinds of mixed tea. Guess what? It’s one of the ingredients in the popular Chai tea.

I have to confess; I drink a cup of warm nước chanh xả mật ong (Honey lemongrass lemon drink) almost daily in the morning, especially in the winter. It keeps me warm, refreshed, and healthy. Here is how I prepare it:

  • Boil about 2-3 lemongrass stalks and a few thin slices of fresh ginger root in about 6-8 cups of water for about 5 minutes. Add a couple spoonful of honey (depends on how sweet you like the taste) at the end.
  • When served, add some fresh lemon or lime juice if you like. For people with sensitive stomachs, or who may not like the sour taste, you can skip the lemon juice.
  • You can serve it warm in the winter and with ice in the summer for a cool refreshment. It’s a healthy and good drink. Give it a try and tell me if you like it!

MEDICINAL USES

If you make a quick search on the internet, you can tell xả has a lot of medicinal benefits such as: lowering cholesterol, boosting the immune system, relieving bloating, relieving anxiety, etc.

For the Vietnamese, lemongrass is one of the important ingredients in nước xông (sauna steam water) used to relieve cold/flu symptoms. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the “word of mouth” about the use of nước xông to prevent/cure COVID was a popular anecdote circulating among the Vietnamese, particularly among the older generation. If you are interested to learn about the art of xông hơi (sauna steam) using nước xông, let me know in the comments below, I may write a blog about xông hơi to help you relieve cold/flu symptoms you might experience this upcoming flu season. Even if you are not sick, xông hơi after a hard day in the cold winter helps rejuvenate your body and helps you have a good rest at night. Remember, xả is an important ingredient in it.

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