The lotus root is a very popular player in many Japanese dishes, even if it does play just a supporting role. It is most highly appreciated for its visual appearance and its crunch. In fact that is all that it has to offer, because as far as I can see it has almost no taste or aroma.
This doesn’t detract from it being a very versatile vegetable (rhizome) and an easy addition to many recipes.
Buy a crisp, fresh lotus root, the cleaner the better but don’t expect it to look too white.
Wash and scrub it before cutting it. Then slice it across to expose the beautiful holes in its centre. These slices can be boiled, stir fried, tempura-ed (if that is a word) or added to a soup. If colour is really important, boil it in water with a little vinegar to keep it looking white.
Below is a picture of some pickled renkon that I won in a lucky draw after riding in the Tour of Lake Kasumigaura. The course took us through masses of lotus fields/ponds all around the lake. As a result the race organisers gave out masses of local produce including various forms of lotus root.
Lotus plants are cultivated in the mud on the bottom of shallow ponds. This explains why the roots that you may find in a shop don’t look exactly clean. When they are fully grown, some lucky university student gets the job of wading around up to his hips in mud and muddy water, dragging around a floating toboggan. He reaches down and sifts through the muck and finally drags up a lotus root. His hard work in such horrible conditions means that we can enjoy the spoils.
The more picturesque side to the cultivation is when the lotus flowers. The following photo was taken today of a pond of pink flowering lotus plants. The photo doesn’t do them justice. Trust me it is spectacular.
All in all, lotus roots add a lot to a meal. The crunch is excellent and they look great. I understand that canned renkon, are pretty good too, but I can’t say because I have never tried them. Have you?