I first discovered renkon nikuzume, lotus root stuffed with minced chicken, at a yakitori restaurant in Tokyo. 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.
What is Lotus Root?
First thing, lotus root is not actually a root.
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.
FUN FACT! – Lotus root usually has 8 or 9 holes.
The word lotus actually means eight.
In Buddhism, the petals of the lotus flower represent the eight stages of enlightenment.
Eating Renkon in Japan
In Japanese, lotus root is called renkon.
Autumn, September through November, is the best season for lotus root in Japan.
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. It’s more practical than buying an entire stem.
Renkon is used in many different Japanese dishes.
You may have heard of the dish kinpira renkon or baked lotus root chips.
Stuffed lotus root slices has always been my favorite at yakitori (grilled chicken) restaurants in Japan.
Try out the recipe below!
What does lotus root taste like?
If you’ve never tried lotus root before, it’s kind of like a crunchy 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 raw 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!
Can I eat lotus root raw?
Think of it like a potato.
Just like a potato, you wouldn’t eat it raw.
In Japan, lotus root is typically grilled, steamed, or fried before being eaten.
I’ve heard that it is possible to eat young lotus root raw.
In Vietnam, I vaguely remember eating young lotus root in salads.
Though, I assume it was steamed and pickled.
As a general rule, always cook your lotus root.
Do you need to peel lotus root?
Yes, lotus root peel contains bitter tannins.
First, you’ll always want to peel lotus root before cooking it.
You can use just a normal vegetable peeler that you would use to peel potatoes.
Lotus root benefits (nutrition)
1. Lotus root is high in Vitamin C. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant which promotes having glowing, healthy skin and boosts your immune system.
2. Eating lotus root helps strengthen bones and support your metabolism because of its high copper content. The copper in lotus root may also help prevent decreased cognitive functioning.
3. Lotus root contains iron, which helps support your energy levels.
4. The fiber content helps aid digestion. Eating a diet high in dietary fiber prevents weight gain.
5. The nutrients and fiber in lotus root help promote cardiovascular health.
After reading through all these health benefits, it’s no wonder that lotus root powder is used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Making Renkon Nikuzume at Home without a Yakitori Grill
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.
I also pan-fried these using coconut oil, which isn’t typical in Japan.
If you don’t have coconut oil at home, you could try an alternative cooking oil.
Or if you want to throw these on your BBQ, I’d go for it!
Let me know how it goes– I’d love to hear from you!
Healthy Stuffed Renkon with Added Veggies
I wanted to add chopped veggies to my renkon nikuzume to make them even healthier and taste better.
Over the last two weeks, I’ve experimented with different combinations of vegetables to add to the minced chicken.
My girlfriend at the time suggested red pepper, which worked.
Then, I added fresh Japanese cucumber and ginger.
This ended up being the perfect combination of tastes and color.
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.