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Preserving Lemongrass & Making Turkey-Lemongrass Stock

Awhile back, one of you asked how the lemongrass that I started from grocery store stalks turned out. Since it was growing in my community garden plot, I didn’t take as many pictures throughout the summer as I typically do for plants here in the Demo Garden. I took several pictures of the lemongrass, which you can view here if you want to see them all.

However, in most of the pictures it just looks like a green blob of grass. This picture actually shows you the size of the stuff in context! It is really a beautiful fountain-shaped grass, and it gets BIG! By viewing it through the cattle panel, you can see that it is probably 4 to 5 feet tall in September. It looks like a fun grass to play in, but just a warning – those grass blades have sharp edges. I recommend long sleeves and gloves when you get ready to harvest.

To harvest, I took pruners and cut off the grass about 18″ above the ground, then I got right into the base and twisted each of the large stalks off. It’s a little bit hard to describe the harvesting process, and I don’t have a really good picture. The key is bending each stalk right at ground level and twisting to pull it out, because the base is where the best usable part is.

I ended up with a grocery sack of lemongrass stalks from just one plant, and that was only taking the large stalks! (Lemongrass really likes heat!) You can see I also harvested some basil and Thai basil at the same time. We’ll deal with that in another post.

This is what the stalks looked like before cleaning.

I took 1-2 layers of the outer leaves off and trimmed off the woody base. You can see the nice white ends on the stalks.

I cut off about 2-3″ of each stalk. My understanding has always been that you want the more succulent white ends and not the rest. You can see the white core at the end that is still a little tough and also the greener bits on the outer layers farther up the stalk that are also a little fibrous. I suppose that technically you might want to remove those parts. (I have to share that I was surprised by the purple stripes on the inside of the stalks! Pretty cool!)

Anyway, I didn’t remove those tougher parts because I was lazy and also because I was planning to pulverize it all anyway.

Here you can see the ends in the bowl, along with all the remaining stalks. The ends were about 4 cups worth of lemongrass…plenty to last us a couple of years, probably! I hated to just pitch the stems though, and I don’t love lemongrass tea enough to go to the effort of drying them. More on that later.

The ends all went into the food processor and came out this lovely fine minced lemongrass. Yum! So, now what? I chose 2 methods of preserving, and we’ll see which I prefer.

Method 1: Put a heaping tablespoon of lemongrass in each ice cube slot and then cover with water. (You can also use olive oil.) Freeze, then store in a bag in the freezer. I’ve used the ice cube method before for basil, and it is my preferred method for storing basil. We’ll see how the lemongrass fares.

The remainder went into two 1 cup containers and I covered them with grapeseed oil. I had grapeseed oil on hand, so I used that instead of lemongrass. FYI, grapeseed oil doesn’t solidify in the freezer. Olive oil does. Yes, I learned that the hard way. So the pro of using the grapeseed oil is that it will be really easy to scoop out lemongrass when I want it. The con is that I have a potential mess on my hands if something goes wrong in the freezer… Not that anything would ever topple over in my immaculately organized freezer. Right.

Now the question was, what to do with those remaining lemongrass stalks? Since I didn’t want to make tea, I decided on another use that would involve infusing a liquid with the nice lemony flavor – making chicken stock. Or rather, as it turned out, making turkey stock. I happened to find 3 packages of turkey legs on the “use them now before they go bad” special.

I browned off the turkey legs a little bit first, then covered them with water and dumped in a few lemongrass stalks, peppercorsn, and bay leaves. I simmered this for about an hour, until the turkey legs were cooked. Then I took the meat off the turkey bones and saved it for use later and threw everything else back in the pot. I put a couple tablespoons of vinegar in the pot with the bones, because supposedly that is supposed to help release more minerals from the bones and help the stock to gel after cooking. I then simmered it for about 6+ more hours. The last hour, I added some carrots, celery, onion, and garlic to add more nutrition and flavor. (Supposedly, if you don’t add the veggies until the end, you get more value from them because you don’t overcook all the nutritive parts. You can also still stand to eat them later.)

I ended up with about 3+ quarts of turkey stock when I strained it. I saved 6 cups to make a Turkey-Wild Rice Soup, and the rest I boiled down until it was about 4x concentrated and froze it in ice cubes. I’m all about the ice cube trays for everything except plain old ice cubes, apparently.

I don’t know if it was the vinegar or if I just was lucky, but this was the first time that I’ve had stock turn into stock jelly when I refrigerate it. It was pretty cool! If I’d been really motivated, I could have saved the turkey bones and made another batch of stock with them. This was enough of a project for me though, and I didn’t exactly have space for more stock, since we don’t have a pressure canner (and they kind of scare me anyway).

The stock was really good! I was afraid that we wouldn’t actually be able to taste the lemongrass, but it was there. Not overpowering, but not lost in the other flavors. One other note…I didn’t actually put any salt in at any point other than very lightly salting the legs before browning. You don’t want to salt the stock and end up with a salty mess when it gets cooked down. Much better to add salt when you are actually using the stock to cook.

So…if you have some extra lemongrass kicking around, you now have something to do with that turkey carcass!

Food Deserts & Farmers Markets

One rather new term that is being used when discussing food security is “food desert.” A food desert is a low-income area where there is little access to a grocery store or supermarket.

To qualify as a food desert, both of these conditions must be met:

  • To qualify as a “low-income community,” a census tract must have either: 1) a poverty rate of 20 percent or higher, OR 2) a median family income at or below 80 percent of the census tract’s median family income;
  • To qualify as a “low-access community,” at least 500 people and/or at least 33 percent of the census tract’s population must reside more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store (for rural census tracts, the distance is more than 10 miles).

Here in Wichita, we have several “food deserts,” most notably along the southern edge of the city and also in the northeast part of the city. To view a map (with details) of the food deserts in the U.S., you can visit this page: Food Desert Locator

On a related note, the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program is available again. Here’s a link to the information from Wichita on the Cheap. (You can also find the info on the Sedgwick County Website, but the link won’t take you directly to the info.)

Residents of Sedgwick County who are 60 years or older and make less than $20,147 per year (before taxes) will soon be able to receive $30 in cash benefits at local participating farmers’ markets this year. The coupons will be available for use between May 2nd and October 15th.

To sign up, you can contact the Sedgwick County Department on Aging or your local Senior Center.

If you are a farmer/vendor that would like to be able to accept the coupons, you need to be signed up at the state level. You can give me a call at 660-0142 for information on what you need to do or visit the State Dept. of Health website.