This slightly spicy Thai-inspired Pork, Lemongrass, and Noodle Stir-Fry makes a satisfying one-dish meal and is perfectly paired with a bright, crisp, and refreshing Shaved Cucumber Salad.
For some reason I can never find any Fresno peppers, a “darling” among us foodies for their very eatable medium heat and, when red, subtle smokiness. More recipes than ever are calling for this chili. But say you can’t locate any, like me, what options do you have? It begs the question, what’s the best Fresno chile substitute to save your culinary masterpiece?
The answer—the ubiquitous jalapeño is your go-to here. In fact, these chilies look so much alike that grocers often mislabel the two in stores. In terms of taste, when they are young and green, the Fresno and the jalapeño have a comparable bright crisp taste and medium heat. The differences come with aging. Fresno peppers tend to become a little hotter, fruitier, and smokier as they turn red. And BTW, they are one of Bobby Flay’s favorite ingredients.
Another ingredient, the aromatic, intense herbal and lemony flavor of lemongrass is found throughout Southeast Asian cuisine, and there isn’t really a decent substitute for lemongrass so if your supermarket is not carrying it, try to find a local Asian mart. The flavor of lemongrass is not one that you can omit and still expect to have an authentic tasting dish.
Make sure to remove several of the tough outer leaves until just the tender stalk remains.
To make an easier job of mincing the lemongrass, use a mini food processor.
However, if you’re stuck, your best bet as a lemongrass substitute is lemon zest mainly because lemons are 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.
In a pinch, 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 Kaffir 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.
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.
To our recipe we made one other tweak and that was topping the stir-fry with some chopped peanuts which added a nice crunch.
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 3 Tbs. minced lemongrass (from about 3 stalks)
- 3 Tbs. grated or minced fresh ginger
- 2 Tbs. finely chopped Fresno chile (or substitute a fresh jalapeño)
- 3 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tbs. fresh lime juice; more to taste
- 1 lb. ground pork
- 6 oz. vermicelli rice noodles
- 2 Tbs. vegetable oil
- 1 cup unsalted chicken stock
- 2 tsp. granulated sugar
- 5 oz. baby kale, tough stems removed (about 5 cups)
- 3 Tbs. coarsely chopped fresh mint
- 3 Tbs. coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
- In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, lemongrass, ginger, chile, garlic, and lime juice.
- In a medium bowl, combine the pork and half of the lemongrass mixture. Let sit for 10 minutes.
- Prepare the noodles according to package directions until tender. Drain, pat dry, transfer to a large bowl, and toss with 1 Tbs. of the oil.
- In a large skillet or wok, heat the remaining 1 Tbs. oil over high heat. Add the remaining lemongrass mixture and stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Add the pork and stir-fry, breaking it into small pieces, until cooked through and browned in places, about 5 minutes.
- Add the chicken stock and sugar. Stir in the kale, and simmer until the kale wilts, 1 to 2 minutes. transfer to the noodle bowl, add the herbs, and toss. Season to taste with lime juice and serve.
By Christine Burns Rudalevige
Shaved Cucumber Salad
- 1/4 cup rice vinegar
- 2 Tbs. seeded and minced Fresno chile (or jalapeño)
- 4 tsp. granulated sugar
- 4 medium cucumbers, trimmed and peeled
- In a medium bowl, combine the vinegar, chile, and sugar.
- With a vegetable peeler or mandoline, shave the cucumbers into the bowl in long, wide strips.
- Toss and let sit briefly before serving.