Mystified by lemongrass? Confounded by kaffir lime leaves? Our new contributing editor shows how to use them in his simple, spectacular dishes.
"Once you've cooked with lemongrass and ginger, there's no going back," says chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. "It would be like cooking without salt, or pepper." Vongerichten, the Mozart of fusion cooking (he's actually Alsatian, not Austrian), left France in 1980 to open restaurants in Bangkok, Singapore and Hong Kong. When he moved to New York City six years later with fresh Asian spices like galangal and tamarind, he changed haute cuisine forever. To see how his mind works, consider the evolution of one of his recipes: Vongerichten tried studding a fillet of John Dory with fresh bay leaves, a variation on a European technique called larding. He then decided to substitute kaffir lime leaves for the bay leaves, and to wrap them around scallops. The experiment was a success: The scallops became infused with a citrusy flavor. Dry spices are an integral part of the Western cooking repertoire; with Vongerichten's recipes, fresh spices will become an integral part of yours.