The intense herbal and lemony flavor of lemongrass is found throughout Southeast Asian cuisine. The flavor of lemongrass is not one that you can omit and still expect to have an authentic tasting dish. Having fresh lemongrass on hand is, therefore, a good idea if you want to cook dishes from Vietnam, Cambodia or Thailand. This herb’s flavor is a complex and difficult one to replicate; however, you do have some options when it comes to substitutes if you are out of the herb or are unable to find it in local supermarkets.
The good news is that most of the things that you can use in place of lemongrass are easy to find and you most likely already have some of them in your spice cabinet or refrigerator.
Your best bet: Lemon zest
This is your best bet as a lemongrass substitute mainly because lemons are relatively easy to find. Simply grating some lemon zest into your dish is an easy way to re-create the citrus tang that lemongrass would provide. The zest from one lemon is equal to two stalks of lemongrass.
You can also use lemon zest along with something else that can replicate lemongrass’s herbal notes. For example, you can use arugula to provide this aspect of the lemongrass flavor. When using arugula, you would combine 1 teaspoon of lemon zest with a single arugula leaf and use that in place of one stalk of lemongrass.
A decent second choice: Kreung (Lemongrass paste)
Kreung is a type of lemongrass paste from Cambodia that you can use as an alternative to lemongrass in many dishes. Kreung contains lemongrass along with shallots and galangal. You can buy it online or in Asian stores that cater to Cambodian immigrants.
You can also find regular lemongrass paste in many grocery stores. Lemongrass paste is typically sold in a squeezable tube that allows the contents to be stored for weeks at a time. When using lemongrass paste as a lemongrass substitute, use 1 tablespoon of paste in place of a tablespoon of chopped fresh lemongrass.
In a pinch: Kaffir lime leaves
Kaffir lime leaves can be used to add a citrus aroma that it is very close to that of lemongrass. When using this substitute for lemongrass, make sure to tear the leaves to remove the midrib before adding them to your dish.
You can also combine the leaves with lime juice and lime zest in order to enhance the citrus flavor; this option is particularly well suited for curries and soups. Note that the leaf itself is rarely eaten so you may want to remove it before serving the dish just as you would remove a bay leaf.
If you have none of the lemongrass replacements listed above, your other options include leaves from the lemon tree as these can provide herbal and citrus notes similar to those of lemongrass.
You can also use lemon verbena, which is another herb that has a lemon-like flavor. Lastly, you can try adding plain lemon juice to your dish as a stand-in for lemongrass. You should measure it carefully as too much could throw off the other flavors in your dish by making it overly tart.