You might be familiar with one of the most celebrated flowering plants in South Asia, and around the world, the lotus, also known as, sacred lotus, Indian lotus, and Chinese water lily.
The lotus plant is an aquatic plant, related to the water lily, which thrives in shallow bodies of water - ponds, marshes, and lagoons. Above the waters surface, this plant displays its remarkably beautiful flowers, seed heads, and wide leaves, and what lies beneath the water is the root portion of the lotus plant, called the lotus root, or rhizome.
Another beautiful thing about the lotus plant is all its parts – the flower, stamens, stems, young leaves, seeds, and root - are edible and can be eaten raw. Keep in mind that the younger leaves and roots are most desirable for raw dishes. The mature leaves and roots have more of a bitter flavor.
The lotus root from the outside seems like nothing special until the ends are cut and the inedible outer skin is peeled away, then you’ll see it has a creamy-white flesh and cylinder wholes that run from end to end, like mini tunnels or airways. When cut in cross-section, each slice displays a visually appealing pattern.
As for texture and taste, it has a crisp, slightly crunchy texture with flavor similar to water chestnut, and has starchiness like a raw potato. It also behaves like a raw potato. Raw lotus will begin to oxidize soon after it is peeled and cut. To avoid discoloration, place the peeled or sliced lotus root pieces in water mixed with a little lemon juice or vinegar. You may also store the whole peeled root or slices of it this way and keep it refrigerated.
On the nutritional front, lotus root is full of fiber, contains vitamin C, and other nutrients. Also, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Traditional Ayurvedic Medicine believe it to have various medicinal qualities.
I like to think of lotus root as a unique, replacement option for the potato in a raw vegan diet, so for recipes that call for potatoes, experiment with lotus root in its place. It’s a root vegetable so treat it like you would any root vegetable. Use it raw in salads, dehydrate to make chips, make soups, these are just some possibilities. Typically this root vegetable is used to make savory dishes, but let’s not rule out creating sweet treats with it.
If you plan to get acquainted with lotus root more often, chances are there will come a point where you’ll need to do more with it than make slices, although it seems a shame not to showcase its pretty pattern. Don’t hesitate to dice it, grate it, or puree it, just save a few slices for garnish. The next post or two, I’ll share with you a recipe I created with lotus root.
When shopping for fresh unpeeled lotus root, look for the ones that are light tan-brown in color. Mature lotus root are usually a darker shade of brown. Fresh lotus root is found at Asian markets; prepared lotus root with its skin removed, more often than not, is vacuum packed in water and can be found at Whole Foods and health food markets. I haven’t done a price comparison but I’d bet it is less expensive at the Asian markets.