Beate Baldry forages for exciting Asian ingredients readily available in Singapore, to discover their traditional uses and ways to incorporate them into Western home cooking. This month’s special ingredient is lotus root (aka Indian lotus, sacred lotus or bean of India). Find out what it’s used for and how to cook it below (plus, see more great dishes to whip up here, chef).
What is it?
Lotus roots are rhizomes – large stems of waterborne plants, the flowers of which you may recognise as they are often used for religious purposes in Buddhist and Hindu cultures. The large stems resemble sausage links. They grow up to four feet in length and are most often a pale cream-beige colour.
The white flesh of lotus root has a crunchy texture and a mild, sweet-starchy flavour similar to that of water chestnut. Once sliced, the lotus root reveals an aesthetically pleasing symmetrical pattern of holes (air canals) within the stem.
Where to find it?
Located in the vegetable section of supermarkets, lotus root is often sold still slightly muddy. Look for a firm and heavy stem with no cracks or cuts. Packages of prepared peeled and sliced lotus root in a solution of salted water can sometimes be found in the refrigerated section.
Lotus root can be eaten a number of ways, from raw to stir-fried, boiled, braised, steamed or deep-fried – even in savoury desserts. Almost all parts of the plant, from the root to the young flower stalks, petals and seeds can be cooked and eaten.
•Many Cantonese soups call for lotus root – when boiled the root turns an attractive pink hue (which then goes brown if it is cooked for too long).
•In Japan, lotus root is grated into soups, the stems are stuffed with miso-based fillings, and a classic pickle is made with lotus root and other vegetables.
•In India, the lotus root is quartered and used in stews and curries, pickled in vinegar, or salted, dried and fried to be served as a side dish.
•In Vietnam, lotus root is lightly blanched and used in salads as in the recipe below.
•The Chinese incorporate lotus powder in moon cakes and other pastries as well as using the root in soupy desserts.
•In Thailand, a refreshing dessert is made from lotus root simmered in syrup and served over crushed ice.
•Lotus root provides a good source of fibre, vitamin C, and B complex vitamins and minerals.
•The Chinese classify lotus root as a “cooling” food, and it is eaten to “tonify” and restore balance to the body. It is said to be especially good for the spleen, heart and kidneys.
•Lotus root powder, which has been dried and ground, is supposed to have medicinal properties.
Cook it at home
Top Tip: To prepare, peel the stem and soak it in vinegar to ensure the pale flesh doesn’t brown.
RECIPE: Vietnamese Lotus Root Salad
This recipe is taken from Cooking with Asian Roots by Devagi Sanmugam and Christopher Tan (Marshall Cavendish Cuisine). The book encompasses explanations of and recipes for seventeen roots from the common beetroot and potato to more exotic roots like taro, ube and burdock.
This salad is a refreshing change from the usual stir-fried or mixed greens. For a more flavourful result, pour dressing over lotus root slices and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before topping with prawns and remaining ingredients to serve. This allows the dressing to better penetrate the lotus root.
Ingredients (serves 5)
•500 grams lotus root, washed and scrubbed clean
•300 grams cooked prawns, shelled but with tails left intact
•1 handful coriander leaves, chopped
•11 tablespoon Polygonum (laksa) leaves, finely chopped
•2 tablespoons crisp-fried shallots
•1½ teaspoons salt
•3 tablespoons caster (superfine) sugar
•125ml lime juice
•2 teaspoons rice vinegar
•2 bird’s-eye chillies, finely chopped
•4 cloves garlic, peeled and pounded
•4 tablespoons fish sauce
1.Boil the lotus root for five minutes, allow to cool, then slice thinly, crossways. Soak slices in water until needed.
2.Combine all dressing ingredients in a small bowl and mix well, stirring until sugar is dissolved.
3.Drain lotus root well and arrange on a serving platter or divide among individual serving plates. Place prawns as desired on top.
4.Pour dressing over and sprinkle with remaining ingredients. Serve immediately.