Aug 31, 2013

Dizzy Lemongrass

It's the last day of August. This summer was like a bright, strange dream. The last thing I remember I was swimming in the Atlantic ocean in my underwear on July 4th. Then everything went into super-speed-surreal mode, like a ferris wheel of colors, days, moments—here they all are, views of the landscape in the late afternoon light, of treetops and little houses and the blur of fairgrounds down below and then of the bored operator's face as he stares at the gears in the giant turning wheel, the blinking lights of the fried dough stand like a halo around him. I close my eyes and feel dizzy, I open them and am fed with light.

It's been a vibrant summer, and I'm celebrating it tonight by drinking a martini out of my home-made lemongrass straw. I'll tell you right now it doesn't work too well, but it tastes nice. What better way to spend a Saturday night?

My most vivid memory of lemongrass is from when I was eighteen and I got a stomach bug while traveling in Ghana. I couldn't eat anything, but I managed to drink a lovely lemongrass tea made by my friend, Patience. Her name, and her gift of tea, seemed so appropriate. I remember reaching out from under my mosquito net, like a beautiful veil that blurred my vision of the world, to pour myself a glass out of the plastic pitcher. Sometimes Patience would sit with me and just talk—I loved the lilt of her Ghanaian speech, her huge smile. I believe Patience's lemongrass tea was truly healing.

But I'm not one to claim anything about the medicinal properties of plants—I'll leave that to the herbalists. I know that lemongrass, whose genus, Cymbopogon, is native to India and grows well in hot climates. It will also grow in North America, it just doesn't winter over too well. It would make a great lawn if only the stalks didn't get so stiff. But in any case I also know that lemongrass is delicious, and can have a refreshing and soothing effect when brewed as tea or chopped up and combined with soup or other creations. I know that tonight, after a hot day working in the cafe and mopping up a nasty pipe leak with old dirty aprons, I was ready for something calm and refreshing. It's why I also bought more local peaches, and onion and red pepper and tomatoes and made peach-lemongrass gazpacho, a recipe I've been tinkering with this summer, after a long battle with unfortunate-tasting gazpachos.

Here's to summer in Boston, a brief hot dreamscape, and to the places on the planet where it's always summer—where lemongrass grows best.

Peach & Lemongrass Gazpacho

1/2 red onion
1 cucumber
1/2 red bell pepper
2 ripe peaches
1 stalks lemongrass, outer layers removed
1 pint yellow cherry tomatoes
1 cup water
3 tsp white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
cilantro (optional, for garnish)

Prepare a bowl of ice water for the onions. Slice your red onion very finely, a mandolin works best. Soak the sliced onions in the ice water to mellow their flavor while you prepare the other ingredients.

Dice the cucumber, bell pepper and peaches as small as you possibly can. Leave the peels on for more flavor. Place in a medium sized bowl.

Next chop the lemongrass and place the chopped lemongrass and pint of cherry tomatoes in a blender. Blend on high for 2-3 minutes, add the cup of water and continue to blend. This will make the "broth" of the gazpacho.

Pour over the chopped vegetables. Remove your icy cold onions and chop a bit more, then add them to the soup. Add the vinegar and salt then chill until ready to serve! Garnish with cilantro or fresh parsley.

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