Other Names: Chinese lotus, leen ngau (China), lily root, pink lotus, renkon (Japan).
General Description: The lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) root is the enlarged underwater stem (rhizome) of a water lily. Lotus root has been raised in ponds in Southeast Asia for more than 3,000 years. Both the leaves and seeds can be used, but the root is most common. The lotus was undoubtedly known in classical antiquity—it appears clearly in a mosaic at Pompeii. The lotus has special significance for Buddhists: It is a symbol of purity because it is undefiled despite its muddy origin. Buddha is often depicted holding or sitting on a lotus blossom.
Lotus root resembles sausage links about 6 to 8 inches long and about 3 inches in diameter. The interior has five to seven tunnels running through it that form lacy patterns when it is sliced crosswise. Lotus root has crispy white flesh with a mild flavor reminiscent of water chestnut or jicama. There is also a wild American lotus, called water, chinquapin, or duck acorn, that was valued by Native Americans, who baked it. However, the lotus for sale in markets is the Asian type, usually imported from China.
Season: Fresh lotus root is available year-round, especially in Asian markets, but its natural harvest cycle is from midsummer to late winter.
Purchase: Select firm, pinkish or grayish lotus root with smooth, unblemished skin and no soft spots. In Asian markets, the roots are boxed and wrapped in newspapers or straw and kept in a cool place. It’s considered bad form by Asian grocers to break up the hands of roots.
Avoid: Pass up whole lotus root with dark or soft spots. When sliced, the channels should not be ringed with a dark brown or black lining, a sign that the root is old.
Storage: Store whole lotus root in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 weeks. Store cut lotus root covered in lemon juice and cold water in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- Wash lotus root under running water, scrubbing gently to remove the mud that is often caked on the outside.
- Remove any small patches of mold and cut out any dark spots.
- Cut off both ends and discard. Pare off the tough outer skin. Slice if desired.
- Soak immediately in lemon juice and water.
Serving Suggestions: Lightly fry root slices with a little red chile pepper, then sprinkle with soy sauce, sake, sugar, and water and simmer until syrupy. Cook lotus root slices in sugar syrup and add to fruit salad. Add cooked lotus root slices to a composed salad or float in clear soup.
Flavor Affinities: Ginger, lemon, lime, rice wine, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, sweet-and-sour sauce, tempura.
from Quirk Books: www.quirkbooks.com