By Heidi Lewis
Monks and nuns of the Forest Tradition, a branch of Theravada Buddhism, live in the seclusion of the forests of Thailand and Sri Lanka. They wander the forests, meditate in caves, sleep in modest mosquito net tents called klots, and take their meals at the base of trees.
The forests are now dwindling, but historically the monks have shared the jungles with tigers, elephants, poisonous snakes, and ghosts—of which they’ve developed particular mastery over fear by employing metta (loving kindness). They are ascetics, who emphasize meditation over scholarly and literary pursuits and hold to the tenets of the 227 rules of conduct.
Thai cooks generally do not use measuring cups, eschewing exactitude, and are instead guided by the principle of balancing essentially five flavors: spicy, sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. It’s a cuisine that places emphasis on lightly prepared dishes with strong aromatic components.
Lemongrass is a wonderful aromatic commonly used in Thai cuisine that can give any work-a-day dish a delightful infusion of citronella. The whole stalk can be used, as you might a bay leaf, imbuing soup stocks or teas with flavor. The soft lower bulbous portion can be grated or sliced into rings and makes a fine partner with ginger in many marinades and sauces.
Preparation: Strip away outer dry leaves and cut off root nub. All parts can be used to make infusions or to add flavor to soups and other dishes.
Storage: Wrap in a paper bag and store in crisper section of fridge. Lemongrass will last one to two weeks if it doesn’t dry out. Store so it doesn’t impart its essence onto other foods.