DID SOMEONE SAY 'LEMONGRASS TREE'?!

To set the freaking scene, we went into this particular market morning with a plan. I even wrote down my list, to be that much more on target, or to lose it at the bottom of my bag, continuing the inspired purchasing whims.

  Current read:  Daughter of Time  by Josephine Tey

Current read: Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey


One of my favorite things about Portland summers is the following farmers market. This most recent visit – now 2 weeks behind me – saw a fairly smaller market than what would unfold in coming weeks, and that's A-OK with me. The date was Sunday, June 2, and it was Lents’ season opener; the second or third year officially within the “PFM” circuit. It was a warm welcome of what’s to come, with the line for flowers being the almost-surprise go-to of the day.

Like I said, it was the first market of the year at this location, so there were only three or four stands with local produce offerings, the rest being food vendors. This market really lends itself to indie startups, like a lovely-looking Dominican dessert stand I’d never seen before (totally not vegan, but my eyes are wide and soak in the visual delight of this Caribbean dessert), live music, information, tips, community-run and activity booths, and a whole lot of honey, which is from a farm I truly dig, but for reasons I’m sure you can understand, I skipped a closer look at this particular weekend.

Jules and I did a quick lap and then rightly on line at the flower stand. I won’t share the prices with you because I hold this market dear but you can likely see that if you had it in you to head ‘out’ to SE 92nd Ave, you’d also make sure to get these flowers. I tend to keep precious locations and eateries to myself these days, but these are stands and farmers and people it is swell to support.

  I'll clarify this ASAP: the bag in the middle is filled with fresh wide rice noodles (sen yai) and the object of my obsession is in the top lefthand corner

I'll clarify this ASAP: the bag in the middle is filled with fresh wide rice noodles (sen yai) and the object of my obsession is in the top lefthand corner

I have this lame new habit forming of arriving at farmers markets too late for baby bok choy in recent weeks. Time to break that, or it’s gonna be a weirder summer.

Mini market haul for June 2, 2018:

  • 3 heads of lettuce

  • Lemongrass "tree" 

  • Young elephant garlic

  • Bonus pack of organic lettuce seeds, courtesy of a gardening info booth

  • PLUS, our bonus stop op to nearby J.C. Rice Noodle* for 3 blocks of fresh tofu and almost 2 pounds of sen yai, aka fresh wide rice noodles

*Suggestion: bring your own container to avoid your 'fu packed in styrofoam


This haul was so small that I felt the urge to visit another market that afternoon. Fortunately, an afternoon in our community garden plot sent us home with heaps of chard and a duo of fresh herbs, parsley and thyme, which I’ll never complain about. I sure hope not. What we did get in this haul was enlightening.

You better believe that I opted for the biggest head of young elephant garlic on offer. I picked it up at this one stand I adore and will hopefully be going on my third summer of picking of a huge bouquet of flowering oregano from at some point (as both home decor and culinary goodness). It's for bold, spicy mincing and and roasting, squeezing, and everything pungently awesome, with the middle part, peel and scraps heading into a freezer bag for a future stock.

While I haven't quite figured it out, it wasn't my first time picking up what was described as "lemongrass tree".  It’s definitely not lemongrass itself, nor is it the long green grass – for lack of a better word – that you totally can grow here in the Pacific Northwest and use for teaMy internet sleuthing and a convenient library hold pick-up of the new cookbook, Vegetarian Viet Nam, pointed me in the direction of Vietnamese balm. Hmm. If you made these leaves thinner and they showcased a tangy, persuasively sour lemon-meets-the-enticement-of-lemongrass (and I'm not even talking the imported relics you usually see around these parts), you’re that much closer, which leads us to “cockscomb mint”, known in Vietnamese as “kinh giới”, thanks to author Uyen Luu’s breakdown of Vietnamese herbs on her blog (and the consequent library hold placed on her book, check). But then, I scroll down and come to “hot mint”, aka “rau ram”, aka Vietnamese coriander, and while it doesn't sound right, it looks even closer, but then again, this memory is already entering the surreal. It's flabbergasting, because cilantro (and its variants) is typically my nemesis, unless it’s super melded into a curry or salsa. All things considered, I have more culinary research to do, and do appreciate any relevant information on this matter you or someone you may know could provide.

  Seitan simmered with "lemongrass tree"

Seitan simmered with "lemongrass tree"

Technicalities aside, I used this fabulous herb...er, branch?!....in pho chay stock last year, both fresh and dried, and understood that this was something fresh that was best used as quickly as possible for the ultimate in vibrant results. Do know, that when I inquired at the stand for ideas on what the woman selling it did it, I received an enjoyably confident but vague “all kinds of things” response with a smile (and large line waiting behind me). I can roll with that. I’ve since used the leaves to heavily flavor this hoisin-tinged seitan stock, and the rest went into a lighter broth made in the handy-dandy instapot: "lemongrass tree”, dried shiitakes, fresh ginger root, young elephant garlic, more garlic, green peppercorn, dried chili pepper, and green tomatoes from last year's appropriately dwindling freezer supply.

This resulted in a lovely, SE Asian-inspired sour broth that we savoured in big bowls with thin rice noodles, Thai sweet basil from our sea of windowsill plants, fresh and crushed, dried chilis, and the hoisin-glazed seitan for dinner one night – and then with more sliced, baked tofu the next – carrots, mushroom soy sauce, and whatever else I’m already, crushingly, forgetting about...hence why I’m a fan of documenting these things. I’m keeping my eyes peeled for more, and note to self [on the internet]: Find whatever recipe handout the Hanoi Cooking Centre sent us home with in 2015 and cook from it! Now that I think of it, I swear we have those aprons somewhere, and one can never have too many aprons. Note to self #2: Remember aprons exist the next time you're cooking for a dinner party.

Speaking of SE Asia and library holds, my interest is damn piqued at my very latest pick-up, a copy of James Syhabout’s vivid Laotian/Isaan/California-driven Hawker Fare, and tragically, but beautifully, this marks the final release of Anthony Bourdain’s publishing house. Thank you both for sharing, who you are, and giving a damn about real people and real food. Damn, emphatically, is all I can say right now

  Pad See Ew with the fresh rice noodles, adapted from Eating Thai Food

Pad See Ew with the fresh rice noodles, adapted from Eating Thai Food

This recipe is good and I'll give all the credit to those rice noodles, freshly pan-fried tofu, the best my wok can do on an electric stovetop, and having an array of Thai sauces in our kitchen. But, for the record of you, me, and this blog thing, the Pad Kee Mao I made night before with our Thai sweet basil was even better.

I’ll write more about continuing adventures of lemongrass-tree seitan in the next installment of these farmers market reports.