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.
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.