In the old days, I might have gone to the library, flipped through a card catalogue, found an encyclopedia of herbs, thumbed through the pages, poured over illustrations or photographs, probably noted several other things of interest along the way. But these days I don’t have easy access to a university library, and spontaneous trips to the library seem like a luxury, and did I mention I’m lazy? There’s the internet, of course, but even with Google image search, I am finding it not so easy to uncover the mystery of this jagged-leafed, minty herb. A quick Google image search revealed Ngo Gai, or, more commonly, sawtooth herb. But the leaves on my sample seem smaller. It might be Kinh Gioi, or “Kin Zoy“–aka Vietnamese balm or Vietnamese mint–but I would have described the flavor as more mint than lemongrass. So….
I ate this herb about a month ago, at a dinner with friends, all poets and writer, none of us new to Vietnamese food–but none us knew exactly what it was. It was a bracingly fresh, a little minty, a little lemony, and for one, a little soapy–which led us down the cilantro path. We ate it alongside crispy Vietnamese pancakes and piled into in lettuce wraps. If you can imagine cilantro as mint, laced with an undertone of lemon, that’s exactly it. It’s addictive and refreshing, and if I ever see it in a green market or store, I will buy it.
But until then, I am turning to you, wise crowd–can you name this herb?