The pungent aroma of lemongrass is transcendental and exotic. Most recipes call for the fibrous outer layer to be removed and discarded, but, although they are admittedly tough, they are still very powerful in flavour and can be infused into everything from stock and oil to sugar and soap (its antiseptic and antifungal properties make it a good addition to both soap and deodorant).
So, next time you top and tail a lemongrass stalk, and remove the outer husk, instead of lobbing it in the food waste bin, try steeping it in hot water, to make an aromatic tisane; or preserve it in oil, which can then be used to fry or roast vegetables, meat or fish, or to top a soup such as today’s recipe, which is silky in texture and wildly flavourful. I hope you enjoy it.
Squash, coconut and lemongrass soup
Different species of lemongrass are native to tropical countries throughout Asia, Africa and Oceania, where it is widely used for its medicinal qualities as well as in cooking. This fragrant herb has an uncanny ability to lift any dish, transforming the mundane into the exotic and exuberant. The lemongrass oil, made from the bits of the stalk that are often thrown away,
It works well in place of fresh lemongrass in many dishes, or alongside it to add further potency: use it for frying a curry base, vegetables or meat, or use it in dressings or, as here, to finish a soup, curry or broth.
Husk, top and tail from 1 lemongrass stalk
60ml flavourless oil (rapeseed or sunflower)
700g squash (eg, butternut, crown prince, acorn)
1 small onion (about 200g), peeled and sliced thin
½ tbsp galangal or ginger, finely chopped
2 makrut lime leaves (optional)
400ml coconut milk
Fresh coriander, Thai basil and chilli flakes, to serve (optional)
First make the lemongrass oil. Chop the husk, top and tail and put in small saucepan with the oil. Bring to a gentle simmer, turn off the heat and leave to cool. Decant into a jar or bottle, along with the husks, making sure they are covered by the oil, then seal and store (it will keep almost indefinitely).
Now for the soup. Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds (save them to make pumpkin seed salt), then cut the squash, skin and all, into cubes. Put these in a saucepan with the onion, galangal (or ginger), lime leaves, if using, and coconut milk. Measure out 400ml water by filling the empty coconut milk can (this will have the aded benefit of picking up any milk residue in the can), and add to the pot. Bring up to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, until the squash is soft. Blend until creamy, season to taste and serve topped with a drizzle of lemongrass oil and a scattering of fresh coriander, Thai basil and a pinch of chilli flakes, if you wish.