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 good, crunchy lotus root.Jump to Recipe
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.
Lotus root is used in similar ways to other root vegetables in Japan like burdock root and sweet potatoes. It's easy to confuse, until you remember that lotus roots is the one with holes!
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 potato with holes.
Mild in taste like taro root– the color and crunchy 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.
If you don't have a peeler, you can remove the peel with a sharp knife. If you are a beginner, I highly recommend buying a peeler so you don't cut your finger!
After peeling your lotus root, then you can cut it into thin slices on a cutting board.
ARE LOTUS ROOTS GOOD FOR YOU?
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 bell pepper, which worked.
Then, I added fresh Japanese cucumber and ginger.
This ended up being the perfect combination of tastes and color.
You could also try green onions, chili peppers, shiso, ume,
What sides to serve with lotus root?
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.
Here are some other sides that would go well with this dish:
edamame, cucumber with miso, cabbage, tsukemono (Japanese pickles), snow peas, or grilled shiitake mushrooms.
How to Cook Lotus Root – Important Tips
1. If you’re lucky enough to find fresh raw lotus roots, choose the cylinder-shaped segments that have small holes spaced out evenly in a circle. Basically, choose the prettiest one (small to medium-sized) with no bruising or soft spots. For this recipe, I picked out the smaller sizes of renkon from what was available.
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 cold water with a little rice 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.
Where to buy Lotus Root
Crossing my fingers, I hope you can find fresh lotus root at Asian grocery stores or markets where you live.
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 at a Japanese grocery store or other Asian markets.
The two options I found on Amazon (pre-sliced lotus roots) 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 United States and Australia.
The next time you go out for some sushi, it may be worth asking them where you can buy lotus root locally.
I’m guessing that the chef at a Vietnamese, Indian, or Chinese restaurant would also know where to buy some.
I don’t have more suggestions than that.
Last resort, I suppose, is to find a lotus flower garden.
Bring a snorkel and mask.
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. ⅙ of medium-sized pepper
- 1 tsp fresh ginger, finely chopped
- 3 tbsp finely chopped Japanese cucumber*
- 100 g minced chicken = about ¼ 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.
- Serve warm.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:
1) What is lotus root good for?
Stir-fried lotus root, vegetable dishes, lotus root chips, salads, grilled yakitori, and kinpira renkon.
Slices of lotus root can also be pickled. It's called su renkon in Japanese.
2) Is lotus root good eating?
If you like other root vegetables, then I think you'll love the taste, extra crunch, and the unique pattern of holes.
3) What does renkon (lotus root) taste like?
It tastes like potato or taro with more of crunchy texture.
4) How do you eat lotus root?
Lotus root (renkon) is a common ingredient in Japanese cooking. It's often an ingredient in side dishes and occasionally in a main dish as well.
First off, it needs to be peeled, rinsed under cold water, and then cooked. You can use a pan to make a lotus root stir fry. It's wonderful to grill with yakitori.
Also, it can be very thinly sliced and pickled. Like other root vegetables, it's also delicious steamed or can be added to a soup.
5) Do you need to peel lotus root?
Yes, the peel contains bitter tannins that you will want to remove.
6) Is renkon a vegetable?
It's a vegetable from the water-lily family. To be more specific, it’s a rhizome. And the simple explanation is it's the stem of the lotus plant.