As names go, lemongrass is pretty on the money. It’s a grassy, reedy plant with the aromatic scent of fresh-cut lemons. It adds a delicious citrus-y note to dishes — and it’s a must in most Thai curry pastes (both green and red).
I was a bit intimidated the first time I bought lemongrass — how on earth does one add this foot-long stalk to a recipe? Turns out, it’s much easier than I thought. In Thai Cooking School, my instructor explained that you slice diagonally, starting from the bulb, until you no longer see any more purple. You wind up using only about one-third of the stalk — but at least you’re using the most tender, lemon-y parts.
You can certainly buy an already-made curry powder. But if you’d like to experiment with your spices, it’s simple. Here’s my personal favorite version of homemade curry powder. This makes about a teaspoon – adjust if you need more:
pinch fennel seeds
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp chili powder
When you include this in recipes, feel free to add some dried chili peppers to kick up the heat.
Most of the spices in the above photo came from Queens, N.Y. — an excellent place to shop for curry-makings. The best stores, of course, are in Jackson Heights, but even little corner shops in other neighborhoods will be well-stocked. That big container of coriander, for instance, came from a little store under the elevated tracks near Sunnyside.
A reader named Gail recently posed this question about the Halibut in Red Curry Coconut Sauce recipe — how do you bruise the kaffir lime leaves?
Excellent question Gail! I watched my Thai cooking instructor do this, when I took cooking classes in Bangkok…you simply take the pestle and bang (lightly) the kaffir lime leaves. It’s fun. In the past I’ve ripped the leaves, to get the flavor out faster, but I think this is a better option.
Coriander root — which is just what it sounds like, the long stringy roots of cilantro a.k.a. coriander — can be exceptionally hard to find in U.S. markets. For some reason, grocers chop it off (perhaps because the green leaves look nicer) which can be frustrating if you need it to make a curry paste or any other type of Asian dish. I think I’ve gone to six supermarkets in one night, searching for coriander with its roots still intact. In a pinch, if you can’t find coriander root, you can take the green stems and double them up. But it’s not as fun.
Many thanks to Citarella grocery store in Manhattan for keeping the roots on (see picture) – where they belong!