The lotus root isn’t anything remarkable to look at when it is displayed for purchase in the supermarket, except perhaps for its size. The tuber can grow up to four feet in length, but the outside texture is a rather unappealing woody skin. It is when the lotus root is thinly sliced that its true beauty emerges. The round, thin, white slices resemble a floral wheel, or perhaps a lacy snowflake. The symmetrical holes spaced throughout each slice make for an especially unique presentation.
And while all parts of the lotus plant are utilized for a number of applications in Japan, the root itself is perhaps the most versatile part. From culinary uses of lotus root to medicinal uses and even a tea remedy, lotus root is definitely an amazing ingredient. In fact, it has been a large part of Japanese cuisine for centuries. Recently, Bon Appétit Magazine named lotus root as one of the top food trends for 2018, so expect to see it making more of an appearance in restaurants and supermarkets.
How to Choose and Prepare The Best Fresh Lotus Root
Fresh lotus root will be firm to the touch, light brown in color, and unmarked by any blemishes or soft spots. The root should also be quite heavy—this means it contains more water, ultimately making it more tasty. Left unpeeled, lotus root will keep for quite some time. Keeping them wrapped in damp paper towels in the refrigerator will prolong their freshness for a couple of weeks.
When you are ready to cook your lotus root, simply peel the skin with a vegetable peeler, the same way you would a potato. If the lotus root is very large, you can slice of the part you are going to use and put the rest back in the refrigerator, taking care to wrap it well. To slice the lotus root thinly, use a very sharp knife or a mandolin.
Let the slices rest in a bowl of water with a few drops of vinegar added until you are ready to cook or use them. Otherwise they will turn brown and dark very quickly.
Culinary Uses of Lotus Root
In addition to its widespread medicinal uses for a number of ailments, culinary uses of lotus root has variations. For starters, Japanese food applications that utilize lotus root include tempura, pickled lotus root, or lotus root slices poached in dashi broth.
Cooking techniques that only cook the lotus root for a short time work best. The longer you cook the lotus root, the starchier it gets. It is much better when crisp and tender. Stir-fries with lotus root are also particularly delicious. You can also try adding thin slices of lotus root to a salad. Garnish the salad with nori or bonito flakes, and that’s a salad that is as tasty as it is pretty!
And don’t forget, lotus root can also be eaten raw as a snack. However, you can do so only when it is fresh and young. Although the lotus flowers bloom during July-August, the root itself is freshest during August-September. In the fall, lotus root will have likely been fully developed, and will be bitter if eaten raw. Dip slices of fresh, young lotus in your favorite dipping sauce and you’ve got a healthy snack. If you want it cooked, you can fry it into crispy lotus root chips to munch on.