Ingredient Spotlight: Lotus Root

When most of us think "lotus," we may think of the beautiful aquatic flower or the yoga position. But did you know that the rhizome of the lotus plant is edible? On the outside it looks like a long cylindrical brown tuber, but slice one crosswise, and you'll be rewarded with beautiful, lace-like slices of a crunchy and delicious vegetable.

Lotus root is popular as a vegetable throughout South and East Asia, where it is cheap and plentiful. Its texture is crisp and crunchy like a jicama. Unlike a jicama, lotus root can't be eaten raw, and must be steamed or cooked first. Lotus root is available in Asian markets, and depending on location, I've seen them available at farmer's markets and in the exotic fruit and vegetable section of most supermarket produce departments.

When selecting a lotus root, choose one that is hard, with no soft spots. To prepare, peel off the brownish skin and slice the tuber crosswise in thin slices. Since lotus roots are starchy like potatoes, they start to discolor when exposed to air. To prevent this, place the slices in a bowl of cold water with a little bit of rice or white vinegar in it.

From here on, there are many things you can do with lotus root. If you'd like to use them in a salad, boil the slices for a few minutes in vinegared water until crisp-tender, then add to a salad of mixed Asian greens, mandarin oranges, and miso dressing.

You can also make a prepared lotus root side dish by boiling the slices in vinegared water until crisp-tender, then tossing them in a bowl with 1 cup of soy sauce, 1 tbsp. rice vinegar, 1 tbsp sesame oil, and 1 tbsp sesame seeds. This can be served over rice. I added this prepared lotus root to my bowl of chirashi last week.

If you want to add the lotus root to a stir-fry, you don't need to boil them first as they will cook sufficiently in the stir-fry. Lotus root can also be dipped in tempura batter and deep-fried, or braised in mirin cooking wine and dashi.

(Images: Kathryn Hill)

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