There are two species of the lotus genus, sacred lotus also known as Chinese lotus, Nelumba nucifera and American lotus, Nelumbo lutea. Both lotuses are perennial aquatic plants.
Native to Asia, Australia, New Guinea and parts of the Middle East and widely cultivated in China, the sacred lotus grows in the mud of shallow fresh water ponds, lakes and lagoons.
The lotus leaf (pad), thin, flat and circular in shape supported on long stem well above the water, can be up to 24 inches across. In some culture, the leaves and stems are eaten. In the Chinese culture, the leaves are used as a wrapper for savory dishes. One popular savory rice dish is Lo Mai Gai served during dim sum. Lo Mai Gai (see NOTE 1) consist of glutinous rice, chicken, Chinese sausage, Chinese mushrooms, sauces and spices wrapped in lotus leaf and steamed. The delicate lotus leaf flavor is infused into the glutinous rice through steaming.
The lotus flower and pod, multi petaled flower mostly pink but also comes in rose and white, rise high above the water on long stem and can grow up to 8 inches across. After the petals fall, the seed pod is exposed (see photo above). The pod has a flat surface with many cavities. It dries to a brown color with a seed in each cavity.
Right photo: Lotus seed pod with seeds.
The lotus seed, round/oval about the size of hazelnut, is covered with a brown outer skin (similar to almonds). Peeled, the seed is off white.
Photo above right: bottom left an unpeeled seed, bottom right a peeled seed.
Unpeeled it is used in savory dishes and soup. Peeled it is used in both savory and sweet dishes. It also is boiled until soft, pureed and use as filling for sweet pastries.
The lotus root (rhizome) grows in the mud is made up of sections connected by joints” and can reach up to 4 feet in length. “Tunnels” run the length of each section and the “tunnels” become pin holes at the “joints”. The lotus root is hard with light brown skin. Peeled, the flesh is a soft orange/pink. Sliced crosswise it lends a special eye appeal to dishes. Cooked briefly it has a crunchy texture, cooked longer it has a soft starchy texture.
If the opportunity presents itself, try this:
1. Bang a lotus root section on the edge of the kitchen counter or a table to break it.
2. Gently pull the 2 pieces apart.
3. Observe the thin silk threads connecting the 2 pieces, sooooo cool.
Cutting with a knife will not produce the silk threads. Cooking lotus root sections or chunks until soft however will produce the silk thread when cut or when biten into.
To use: Remove and discard the “joints”, peel section using a vegetable peeler.
∞ Stir-fry, slice thinly and use as part of the vegetables in any stir fry dishes.
∞ Soups, leave section whole or cut into chunks and cook until soft, 1 hour or longer (usually with soup bones, ginger, Chinese red dates and Chinese mushrooms).
∞ Salad, slice thinly, blanch briefly, cool under cold running water, drain, pat dry. Combine with greens and other ingredients. Toss with your favorite salad dressing.
∞ Deep fried, slice thinly crosswise, deep fry until golden brown, or coat with a tempura batter and deep fry. Or slice lengthwise into finger-sized pieces and deep fried as you would French fries.
As the Chinese New Year approaches, fresh lotus root will become more readily available in the Asian markets. Also available during this period are candied lotus root slices and candied lotus seeds.
From “Wokking Your Way to Low Fat Cooking“ by Norma Chang
1½ tablespoons pulverized Chinese rock sugar or white sugar
1 – 2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar or to taste
1 tablespoon soy sauce, regular or gluten free
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Combine all the above in a small dish. Mix well to dissolve sugar and salt. This is the sauce.
1 section lotus root (about ¾ pound) Peel and cut into about 1/8″ thick slices. Immerse in cold water to prevent discoloration.
2 quarts water
1 – 3 cups Chinese parsley leaves Wash and dry well.
1 – 2 teaspoons toasted black sesame seeds (see NOTE 2)
1. Bring water to boil in a 3 – 4 quart pot using high heat. Drain lotus root and add to boiling water. Return to a boil. Lower heat to medium low; simmer lotus root for 3 minutes. Drain at once and cool under cold running water. Drain and pat dry each slice.
2. Place dried lotus root in a mixing bowl. Add sauce and mix well. Refrigerate until ready to use.
3. Scatter Chinese parsley on a serving platter. Drain lotus root and arrange on top of parsley. Garnish with black sesame seeds. Serve.
NOTE 1: Lo Mai Gai is the Cantonese pronunciation for this dish. Lo mai is glutinous rice (also known as sticky rice and sweet rice), gai is chicken.
NOTE 2: When toasting black sesame seeds add a few white ones to act as a guide, when the white sesame seeds are toasted the black ones will be toasted too.
Copyright © by Norma Chang
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