Photo by odonata98 (Kimberly Reinhart)
This herb, which is native to Malaysia and grown throughout Southeast Asia and California, is one of the most important in Southeast Asian cooking. With the great popularity of the food of that region, lemon grass has made its way onto countless ingredients lists for all sorts of dishes. It has long, thin, gray-green leaves, and a scallion-like base. The stalks are too tough to eat but impart a distinctive fragrance and taste when simmered in a liquid. In the elaborate flavor play of Southeast Asian cooking, lemon grass balances hot chiles, gives depth to cool mint, and creates a zing in coconut milk soup. Citral, an essential oil also found in lemon peel, gives lemon grass its distinctive lemony taste and scent.