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Many variations of the lotus root soup attest to its popularity in Singapore. Some people swear by peanuts, dried cuttlefish, and dried tangerine peel.
What is lotus root?
Photo by Brian Yap
The lotus root is the root portion of the lotus plant. The plant grows in ponds with the flowers, stems and leaves above the water and the root below the water.
Every part of the plant can be used in cooking, either as ingredients or as cooking tools. The flowers, stamens, seeds, leaves and of course the roots or more commonly known as rhizomes.
The root is light grey brownish in color. When cut in cross-section, it looks like wheels or some say snowflakes.
This starchy rhizome appears frequently in Chinese food, especially vegetarian dishes. It not only adds bulk but also helps balance the oiliness and richness of fatty cuts. It is crunchy even after long hours of cooking and does not have a strong flavour.
How to select, clean and prepare lotus root
The lotus flower. Photo by Toshiyuki Imai
The lotus plant is in full bloom in summer. The roots are typically harvested from autumn to winter.
The fresh root is harvested from ponds, so they are usually covered in mud. That's one of the ways we tell the fresh ones from the not so fresh ones. Wash and scrub thoroughly to remove the mud.
Besides muddy ones, choose those that are fairly straight and each section is regularly shaped. There shouldn't be any bruising or cuts. Avoid those that look dry or too white.
Grandma will usually peel the outer skin with a peeler before slicing them cross-section. I personally don't think peeling is necessary. A good scrub is a must though.
If you are not going to use it immediately, soak in water with lemon juice or rice vinegar to prevent discoloration after peeling and cutting.
Uncut and unwashed roots can be wrapped in newspaper and cling wrap before placing in the refrigerator. Sliced lotus root should be wrapped in cling wrap before placing in the refrigerator. Consume within 2 days.
Lotus root are usually simmered soups and do well in slow cookers.
I thought I'll start off by featuring a very basic one with only a handful of red dates to help sweeten the soup.
1. Basic lotus root soup
A simple basic lotus root soup. Photo by Phoebe Lim
This soup is traditionally cooked using pork ribs but if you don't like it, go ahead and substitute. It works well with chicken. If you are a vegetarian, see the recipe below.
600g lotus root
300g pork ribs
5 red dates
Salt to taste
Directions for the stove top
Wash and clean the lotus root of any mud and dirt. Skin it if you want. If not, scrub thoroughly
Cut the roots cross-wise so that they look like wheels
Keep the roots immersed in water and a tablespoon of vinegar to prevent them from turning black
Parboil the pork ribs for about 2 minutes
Wash the pork ribs to remove any blood and trim off excess fat
Combine the water, pork ribs, lotus root and red dates in a soup pot and bring to a boil
Lower the heat and simmer for 1 to 1.5 hours
Salt to taste before serving
Directions for the slow cooker
Follow directions from 1 to 5
Assemble pork ribs and lotus root in the slow cooker and add hot but not boiling water. Put on low and cook for 2 to 3 hours
There is less evaporation taking place for the slow cooker version. You will want to adjust the amount of water required. The actual amount depends on the size of your slow cooker. It should be enough to cover all the ingredients completely but not more than 80% full
The next 2 recipes have dried squid which makes the flavour of the soup more nuanced. It is also one of those ingredients that some people swear must be in a lotus root soup.
2. Lotus root, peanut and red date soup
300g lotus root, washed and peeled
1 small (about 75g) dried squid, rinsed and cleaned
6 cups chicken and pork bone stock
100g raw peanuts, skins removed
8-10 chinese dried red dates, piths removed
1.5 tsp salt
Slice the lotus root into thick slices
Slice or trim the dried squid into small square pieces
Bring the stock with all ingredients to the boil in a deep pot
Reduce heat and simmer for about 1.5 hours
3. Lotus root, dried squid and red date soup
This is a popular family soup that helps reduce heatiness.
8 cups chicken stock
300g lotus root, well scrubbed and left whole
20g dried squid, cut into small squares
15 red dates, cored
10g goji berries
Place the chicken stock, lotus root, dried squid and red dates in a soup pot and bring to the boil, Add the goji berries
Reduce heat to very low and simmer for 1.5 hour
Slice the lotus root before serving
Old cucumber 老黄瓜 (lao huang gua) or a combination of carrot and green radish can replace lotus root.
4. Vegetarian lotus root soup recipe
450g lotus root
75g fresh lotus seeds
40g dried lily bulbs
38g euryale seeds
Pinch of salt
1.5 litre of vegetable soup stock
Wash and slice the lotus root
Wash the lotus seeds, lily bulbs and euryale seeds
5. Miso soup recipe with lotus root, leek and tofu
This hearty vegetarian soup recipe uses red miso. The combination of leek, lotus root slices, mushrooms and silken tofu made it a great winter soup. Imagine digging into this big pot of steamy goodness with the winter winds howling outside.
4 cups dashi broth
1 large leek thinly sliced
1 carrot, thinly sliced
5 dried shiitake mushrooms
16 thin slices lotus root
1/4 pound tofu
2-3 tbsp red miso
2 green onions, thinly sliced
Bring the dashi broth to a boil in a pot
Soak the dried shiitake mushrooms in warm water for 30 minutes
Drain, remove the stems and slice thinly
Slice the leek and carrot into thin slices
Add the leek, carrot, mushrooms and lotus root slices to the broth and simmer for about 3 minutes
Cut the tofu into small bite-sized cubes
Add the tofu to the simmering broth
Dissolve the miso paste using a few spoonful of the broth
Add the miso liquid to the broth
Remove from heat and serve with the green onions as garnish
The goji berries are sweet and the lotus root is crunchy. A nice contrast. It is a vegetarian congee, no meat in it.
It is also a very nice gentle nourishing dish for the elderly. Make sure the lotus root is cooked till it is very soft so that it is not too hard on the teeth and gums. Do that by parboiling before adding to congee.
200g lotus root
1 cup of rice
8 cups of water
1 tbsp goji berries
1/2 tsp salt
Wash and soak the goji berries till soft
Wash and peel the lotus root
Cut the lotus root into thin slices (cross-section)
Wash and soak the rice for 30 minutes
Place the rice in a pot and add the water
Bring to a boil and lower heat to a simmer
When the porridge is done, add the lotus root and cook till soft
Add the goji berries and salt
7. Lotus root and pork porridge
225g fresh lotus root
150g lean pork
10 goji berries
12 cups of water
1 cup of rice
Pinch of cornstarch
Pinch of salt
Dash of vinegar
Wash and peel the lotus root. Slice cross section and soak in cold water with a little vinegar
Clean the pork, slice thinly and coat sparingly with cornstarch
Bring the water to a boil and add the rice
Lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes
Add the lotus root and cook for 30 minutes
Add the pork, goji berries and salt
Cook for a further 10 minutes
Other ways to enjoy lotus root
This asian vegetable can also be used raw in salads, stir fries, deep fried as tempura or chips.
To make lotus root chips, peel and slice them thinly. You can do so by hand although I think a mandoline is much better for consistent slicing especially if you aren't that great with a knife. Pat dry with kitchen towel and deep fry. A much healthier munchies than potato chips.
The root can also be juiced raw together with radish to make a vegetable juice mix that help to alleviate internal bleeding in the stomach.
I would like to end off with a dessert recipe.
8. Lotus root dessert with red beans and honey dates
I saw this lotus root soup recipe in the October 2007 issue of Mother & Baby. It is listed as appropriate for pregnant ladies.
Red beans are usually used in sweet soups and desserts but here it is paired with lotus root to make a light savory soup.
The honey dates provides an earthy sweetness without overpowering the flavour of the chicken stock. The Cantonese loves to add honey dates to their soups.
It is supposed to serve 6, so increase or decrease ingredients accordingly. I added additional notes in brackets.
1 lotus root with 2 or 3 sections
200g red beans (or adzuki beans)
4 honey dates
2 litres chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Wash and soak the red beans overnight. Drain before use
Clean lotus root and rinse well, slice and set aside (soak in water with a splash of vinegar to keep it from browning)
Bring chicken stock to a boil, add the red beans and cooke at high heat for 15 minutes
Lower the heat and simmer for 1 hour
Add lotus root and honey dates. Continue to simmer for 2 hours