A Crunchy Vegetable
Nourishes the Blood and Clears the Lungs
Symbol of Purity: The lotus flower has an exalted status in many of the Buddhist societies of Asia, because of its symbolism of purity. The lotus has also given its name to one of the most important scriptures of Buddhism.
So it is not surprising that edible parts of the lotus plant, its leaves, roots and seeds, have a high status in many of the Pacific Rim cuisines.
“Seated on a Jeweled Lotus Throne”: The lotus had a high position in Asian tradition even before Buddhism, and its special history goes back for about five thousand years.
The beautiful lotus flower symbolizes purity in spite of the mud and dirt in which its roots are embedded. As the 2nd century Lotus Sutra puts it,
“Universal Good is present in all lands,/
Sitting on a jeweled lotus throne beheld by all.”
Plant of Paradise: In Chinese Buddhism, paradise was full of lotuses and so Buddhist temples often had ponds with lotuses in their gardens.
Similar customs exist in Japan, Korea and Vietnam.
The lotus is the national flower of India and of Vietnam and is common to many tropical and semitropical regions in Asia and also parts of Australia.
The Plant Itself: The lotus plant grows underwater and has a large, beautiful flower. The edible part of the dried root is actually the rhizome and contains numerous holes, arranged as if in a pattern. This is not an important feature of lotus roots as a food, because these holes can be stuffed in cooking.
Strong Seeds: The lotus seeds are very resilient and scientists have revived ancient lotus seeds, germinating and growing them to fully formed plant. Scientists in China revived and grew lotus plants from ancient seeds discovered in an archeological dig that were over 1,300 years old!
In Japan scientists performed a similar feat with some ancient lotus seeds said to be over 2,000 years old!
Nutrition: Lotus roots have been found to be rich in dietary fiber, vitamin C, potassium, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, copper and manganese. They are low in saturated fat and cholesterol.
Calorie Content:In Fumiko Matsumoto’s standard analysis, 100 grams of boiled lotus root contained 68 calories, with
- 1.8 grams protein
- no fat
- 6.8 grams carbohydrates
- less than 1 gram fiber,
despite its reputation for high fiber: Most of the root is water – 81 percent; also 17 milligrams of calcium and 55 milligrams of phosphorus.
Taste: Lotus root has little flavor in itself, and tends to take on the flavor of whatever it is cooked with. Raw lotus root is crunchy in texture and some people describe the faint taste as similar to peanuts or sweet potatoes. The texture can range from very crunchy to somewhat sticky, depending on how it’s cooked.
Lotus in Cuisine: It’s not just the image of the lotus plant that explains why it is so popular as a food. The lotus root is highly edible and is good cooked in a variety of ways – pickled, stewed, baked and fried. Lotus root is thought to go well with pork, shrimp, vinegar and sugar.
In China: Lotus root often appears in pork dishes, with the holes in the root stuffed with pork, which is then sauteed or deep fried; in soups; stir-fried and in sweet-and-sour form, pickled and served as a salad or side dish.
In Cantonese cooking, lotus roots are sometimes braised with pork and Chinese kohlrabi.
In the Imperial Qing Court, lotus leaves were used in a porridge and steamed with cubed pork. The root was stuffed with glutinous rice, cooked and served with rose essence in a summer sweet.
“This was “one of the many kinds of summer refreshment which used to be enjoyed in the ancient city of Peking” — Su Chung
In Japan, lotus roots are often pickled – a good and easy recipe for Lotus Pickles is attached. They appear in other forms, in salads, braised, sometimes with dashi and vinegar, deep fried, tempura fried. They are sometimes pan fried with a mat filling inside two slices of lotus root (hasami-age). Also with carrots in a braised dish similar to Kinpira Gobo in which they replace the burdock (gobo), so this dish is called Renkon Kinpira.
In Korea, several parts of the lotus appear in different dishes, leaves, roots, seeds. The roots are braised with sesame as a side dish, and candied similar to candied ginger as a sweet.
In India, lotus root is popular as a subzi or vegetable side dish stewed with tomatoes and spices, including ginger, garlic, red chili, coriander and garam masala and garnished with coriander leaves. In Kashmir it is sometimes prepared with a yogurt based sauce and added to dishes with potatoes and lentils.
In the Market: Lotus roots are sold whole in Asian markets, or sometimes boiled and packed in vacuum sealed packs or canned. Serious cooks will prefer the fresh form when available.
Cooking and Preparing Lotus: It needs to be peeled before using and normally is cooked, usually by steaming or boiling. Once peeled, lotus roots need to be kept in water with a little vinegar. . Brief boiling helps lock in the crunchy texture while removing the natural bitterness of raw lotus root.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, lotus roots are said to invigorate the stomach and spleen, nourish the blood and are used to treat gastrointestinal ulcers and hepatitis. Lotus roots are said to have what is called a warming nature and are used to relieve respiratory congestion.
Here’s a Japanese recipe — adapted from one of Joan Itoh ‘s columns — for Lotus Root Pickle that keeps well in the refrigerator until members of the family devour it – most people seem to like it and it usually disappears quickly.I
Lotus Root Pickle
- 1 or more large lotus roots, to yield 12 ounces when peeled and sliced
- 5 tablespoons vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
Peel the lotus root and slice thinly. Immediately put it in a bowl of water with about a tablespoon of vinegar to prevent discoloration.
First slice the root in half lengthwise, then into slices about a quarter inch thick. Boil these slices in water with a little vinegar, then slice them again very thin.
Mix a sauce with 4 tablespoons of vinegar and a tablespoon of sugar, mix it well and coat the thin slices of lotus with this.
Put in the refrigerator to marinate for at least an hour, even better overnight and then serve. This goes well as a side dish with rice, or as an appetizer, and of course goes well with drinks