Finding replacements for lemongrass is a good idea if you live in an area that doesn’t have larger supermarkets. We find that we can grow our own but it is helpful to know how to use alternatives for out of season recipes.
When looking at replacements for lemongrass bear in mind that there is not one single all purpose alternative. Some will be good for curries, stews or herbal teas and others will work well as a garnish to give a citrus kick. It is not just what you use as a substitute, but how you use it too.
match each option to each recipe as they come to you. We find that some just don’t translate and really you need to rethink how you add the alternative.
Best Replacements For Lemongrass
Sometimes being a good home cook does not mean following the recipe to the very letter. Sometimes we all have to go rogue, or even if you change your mind for what you fancy for dinner and don’t have fresh lemongrass to hand!
Lemongrass is seasonal and can be hard to find so we don’t always have it to hand. Here are some great replacements for lemongrass; use lime or lemon zest, kaffir lime leaves, preserved lemons, Lemon balm leaves, lemon verbena leaves or even dried lemongrass to replace the delicate citrus flavor.
Let’s look at how you can use each ingredient now.
Lime Zest As A Garnish To Replace Lemongrass
Lime zest is a very gentle flavor and if you are using it as a replacement for lemongrass just be aware that it does not go well when over cooked. So add you lime zest as a garnish to a dish, or as a last minute ingredient. Do not simmer or stew the lime zest as the bitter flavor will overtake the citrus.
TOP TIP -Be generous with the lime zest and choose an unwaxed, organic fruit to use. My next tip is to forget how the recipe says to add the lemongrass, just use the lime zest as a garnish!
Kaffir Lime Leaves Instead Of Lemongrass
Kaffir lime leaves make a great substitute for lemongrass. If stewing the leaves make sure to count them in and count them out again. That way you won’t accidentally leave any in the meal. Although kaffir lime leaves are edible they have a tough texture and will snap in your mouth.
TOP TIP – snap the kaffir lime leaves without breaking them in two. This will release more of the essential oils and give off a much stronger flavor. Meaning they are an even better alternative to lemongrass.
Lemon Zest As A Garnish Instead Of Lemongrass
Lemon zest works well to replace lemongrass and even a squeeze of juice as well. Make sure to not overcook the zest as it becomes bitter and will not be a good substitute at that point. Use a little less lemon zest than you would the lime zest as it holds a stronger citrus flavor.
TOP TIP- use lemon zest in side dishes and not just the main dish. This way you will kind of pull the flavors together, use in conjunction with fresh herbs for an even fresher more zingy taste.
Lemon Balm (Melissa)
The leaves of lemon balm can be finely chopped and added to dishes in replacement of lemongrass. Easier to grow in colder climates and therefore readily available from your own garden lemon balm offers a similar taste profile to lemongrass.
TOP TIP- be aware that lemon balm leaves will wilt and loose their vibrant color when cooked. You can use them raw as a garnish and this will also bring a large zesty and citrus like flavor, as well as an almost peppery taste.
Lemon Verbena – A Citrus Kick In Place Of lemongrass
We love to grow our own lemon verbena and can do so even in a colder climate. Lemon verbena leaves are sharp to the touch and not pleasant to eat, so instead use in herbal teas or in stews and remove before drinking or eating. It works as a great replacement for lemongrass as there is a very strong citrus aroma and flavor from lemon verbena.
TOP TIP – grow your own lemon verbena and bring indoors before colder weather. For a full guide have a look here.
Preserved Lemon As A Substitute For Lemongrass
When you prepare lemon wedges in spirit vinegar and salt water it becomes preserved and will last in a sealed jar for easily 6 months. Once opened store in the refrigerator and eat within 2 weeks of opening. It has a taste similar to lemongrass but with a distinctive texture.
Try cooking rice with the preserved lemon in to get a citrus kick without the texture. Make sure to physically remove the lemon before serving, or cut into smaller sections and leave in as a lovely and edible treat.
Dried Lemongrass Leaves
Dried lemongrass leaves are perfect for using in herbal teas or used with a sachet d’epices. This is where you use a muslin bag or cheesecloth bag to hold the dried leaves and then they can infuse to the dish without becoming a hassle to remove. You do not want to eat dried lemongrass as it is sharp and unpleasant to chew.
You can purchase dried lemongrass available via Amazon here, in the UK.
Thai Basil As A Garnish In Place Of Lemongrass
Thai basil offers a more citrusy flavor than the usual Genovese and will work well to introduce a herbal and zesty flavor to a dish. Not perfect as a replacement for lemongrass on it’s own though. Instead use it as a garnish alongside some grated lime zest. Thai basil looses a lot of the intensity of flavor when cooked.
TOP TIP – the more you chop the Thai basil the more it will release it’s essential oils, so you may want to macerate the leaves and add to oil to create a dressing.
How To Use Cilantro As A Replacement For Lemongrass
Coriander or cilantro leaves are a great replacement for lemongrass if used as a garnish. You will have the citrus zing as well as a herbal flavor from cilantro and care must be taken to ensure all of your dinner guests like the flavor, but it can be added liberally to give a zesty kick.
TOP TIP – some of us (me included) dislike the flavor and only really perceive a soapiness. To find out more about this phenomena have a read of my latest article here.
There is no one perfect ingredient that will work as replacements for lemongrass. Instead build layers of flavor by using a combination of the options shown above. Tailor it to each recipe and bear in mind how you can use each new ingredient.
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