I first discovered lotus root stuffed with minced chicken (renkon nikuzume) at a yakitori restaurant in Tokyo. That was over 10 years ago. Here’s my new, healthier version that you can stuff yourself with at home! This simple recipe is easy to replicate, as long as you can get your hands on some lotus root.
If you’ve never tried lotus root (renkon in Japanese) before, it’s kind of like a potato with holes. Mild in taste like taro– the color and texture is similar to raw potato. Biting into a slice of cooked lotus root, you’ll discover that it has more crunch like carrot or celery.
With its holes stuffed with minced meat, it’s the best. The first time you try renkon nikuzume in Japan, you’ll say it’s like nothing you’ve ever eaten before.
And then you’ll want to order more. Crunch-crunch-crunch.
What is Lotus Root?
First thing, lotus root is not actually the root of the lotus plant.
It’s a rhizome. In simple terms, it’s the stem. Ginger, turmeric, and galangal are other examples of rhizomes you may be familiar with from different Asian cuisines.
The lotus is an aquatic plant that’s native to many parts of Asia, from India and Vietnam to China and Japan. The roots are planted in the muddy soil beneath a shallow pond. You’ll recognize the beautiful lotus flowers and leaves floating on the water’s surface.
Under the water, lotus rhizomes can grow quite long. They have segments linked together like sausages. The “holes” in lotus root are pathways for air from above the water’s surface to reach the submerged parts of the plant.
In Japan, Autumn is the best season for renkon (lotus root): September through November. Though, you’ll find it being sold during other harvesting seasons as well.
At supermarkets in Japan, you’re more likely to find smaller segments or cuts of renkon in various sizes being sold by weight. For this recipe, I picked out the smaller sizes from what was available.
Renkon Nikuzume (Stuffed Lotus Root) – A Healthy Japanese Recipe
At yakitori restaurants in Japan, renkon nikuzume is cooked over a charcoal grill alongside the skewers of chicken.
I don’t own a grill so my version of stuffed renkon is for your stovetop.
To make it healthier, I added finely chopped vegetables to the minced, free-range chicken. I’m not a vegetarian, but I’m trying to reduce the amount of meat I eat at any one meal (no more than 100 – 120 grams).
Lotus Root Stuffed with Minced Chicken and Veggies
Over the last two weeks, I’ve experimented with different combinations of vegetables to add to the minced chicken. My girlfriend suggested red pepper, which worked.
Then, I added fresh cucumber and ginger. This ended up being the perfect combination.
The leftover shishito peppers I had originally tried adding became the garnish for the side. (If you’re not familiar with shishito, see the next two photos below.)
Important Tips for Making Stuffed Lotus Root
1. If you’re lucky enough to find fresh lotus root, choose the segment that has holes spaced out evenly in a circle. Basically, choose the prettiest one (small to medium-sized).
2. Lotus root, when exposed to air will begin to turn brown. To prevent this, keep it wrapped up until you’re ready to start prepping and cooking.
Tip: Putting the slices in a bowl of water with a little vinegar is a common trick to keep your lotus root white.
3. Before you add the cucumber to the minced chicken, try to remove a lot of the moisture. Also, err on the side of adding too little cucumber than too much. Adding too many chopped vegetables will cause the minced chicken to break apart from the lotus root when cooking.
Before you can recreate this recipe in your kitchen…
Where to buy Lotus Root
Crossing my fingers, I hope you can find fresh lotus root at your local Asian food market.
If not, packages or cans of boiled, pre-cut slices are also sold outside of Asia. From my research online, frozen packages are also available in the US and Australia.
The two options I found on Amazon looked expensive, more than I would pay.
Lotus root chips, from what I’ve read, are commonly served as appetizers at Japanese restaurants in the US and Australia. The next time you go out for some sushi, it may be worth asking them where you can buy renkon.
I’m guessing that the chef at a Vietnamese, Indian, or Chinese restaurant would also know where to buy some.
Sorry, I don’t have more suggestions than that. Last resort, I suppose, is to find a lotus flower garden.
Bring a snorkel and mask.
How to make Stuffed Lotus Root (Renkon Nikuzume)
Lotus Root Stuffed with Minced Meat (Renkon Nikuzume)
- 1 section renkon lotus root, peeled and sliced medium-sized (approx. 7-10 cm in length)
- 1 tbsp red pepper, seeds removed and finely chopped approx. 1/6 of medium-sized pepper
- 1 tsp fresh ginger, finely chopped
- 3 tbsp finely chopped Japanese cucumber*
- 100 g minced chicken = about 1/4 lb
- 1 tsp extra virgin coconut oil
- sea salt to season
Wash and peel lotus root. Also, peel or slice off the ends where the holes are to remove any browning or black parts.
Cut lotus root into 7 - 8 slices approximately 1 cm wide.
Dry off slices with paper towel to remove some of the moisture.
Place slices in a frypan (with no oil). On low heat, uncovered, precook lotus root.
When the bottom side begins to brown, carefully turn slices with chopsticks or a spatula and heat the other side. When both sides have slightly browned, remove from pan and set aside. If sides are not browning after a few minutes, turn up heat slightly.
In the meantime, finely chop cucumber, red pepper, and ginger.
Using paper towel, remove as much moisture from the cucumber as possible.
In a frypan, cook chopped red pepper and ginger on low to medium heat. Stir regularly. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until ginger begins to brown slightly. Then, remove from heat and set aside.
Put minced chicken into a small bowl. Add chopped cucumber, red pepper, and ginger. Mix with a spoon or using your hands.
Pre-heat frypan on low heat and coat with coconut oil.
Measure one heaping teaspoon of minced chicken mix and press it against one side of a slice of lotus root.
With the slice of lotus root in your palm, press down with your fingers to flatten the minced chicken against the lotus root so it holds tightly and fills into the holes.
Repeat with each slice of lotus root until you run out of minced chicken.
Place each stuffed lotus root into the frypan with the meat side down. Cook on low to medium-low heat.*
When the meat begins to turn golden brown (2-4 minutes), flip and cook the reverse side until it begins to brown.
Once the minced chicken meat is fully cooked, remove each stuffed lotus with a spatula or chopsticks.
Place on "tempura paper" or paper towel to remove some of the oil.
*If you use regular cucumbers, such as what's available in the US, rather than Japanese cucumbers, I recommend removing the seeds to reduce the moisture.
*When cooking stuffed lotus root in frypan, I use sound as an indicator of the right cooking temperature. I listen for a soft sizzling sound from the fry pan to know the temperature is just right.
DID YOU TRY OUT THIS RECIPE?
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE THESE HEALTHY RECIPES:
Image above (credit- Mana): using leftover slice of renkon to make a chopsticks stand
I want to thank my lovely assistant, Mana, who helped with the photoshoot! She was also my hand model and chopsticks holder. I couldn’t have taken all these pictures without her!
After she took the first bite (see picture above), I got an oishi! (official approval)
I just hope you can find some lotus root this Autumn. I think this recipe would get an oishi out of you too!