Art / Food

Lotus Flower- From Root to Flower to Seed, It Feeds Our Senses

Freshly cut and peeled lotus root should be used within the hr. Otherwise it will discolour.

Freshly cut and peeled lotus root should be used within the hr. Otherwise it will discolour. Photo by J. Chong

To me, eating lotus root, is akin to eating water chestnuts.  Either cooked or raw, they add a slight sweetness and abit of fresh, crunchy fibre to a dish.  If eaten cooked, lotus root must be sautéed or cooked not too long, or else you’ve lost that crunch.

One wonders who took the gamble to discover that beneath a beautiful lotus flower and its leafy pads, was an edible root firmly embedded in the lake bed.  It must have been a moment of plain hunger. Again, it must have been human ingenuity to use the lotus leaf as a natural food wrapper to steam packets of sticky rice with dried sausage or meat, some beans, a boiled egg or other steamed goodies. Its seeds are also used to make a sweet light brown paste filling for Asian pastries.

Fresh and hot from the stove: stir fried noodles with snow peas, peppers, lotus root, onion and tofu.

Freshly prepared for supper: stir fried noodles with snow peas, peppers, lotus root, onion and tofu.

Stir Fried, Steamed or Boiled –Savory,  Dessert or Medicinal Dishes
Once you understand the right vegetable combinations and some meat, sliced lotus root completes a stir fry,  a steamed dish or a consommé noodle soup, without adding much bulk and adds aesthetic interest to a dish.

Once sliced open, you must use within an hour or so since it discolours. Any cut edge for a leftover root, must be protected with a little plastic Saran wrap  and stored in the refrigerator. Use within a few days.

Steamed beef marinated with a bit of soy sauce, oil and onion. Lotus root added with dish just before steaming this dish to cook.

Steamed beef marinated with a bit of soy sauce, oil and onion. Lotus root mixed in with marinated meat just before steaming this dish to cook. Steaming meat is more common as a homestyle Asian cooking technique –a healthy approach.

I usually find the easiest and quickest way to enjoy fresh lotus root at its best, is to throw in a couple of thin slices into a stir-fry –about mid-way through the cooking dish.  I have yet to see and eat an entire dish of lotus root:  I’m not so sure that is really recommended from the standpoint of traditional Chinese medicine or healthy eating.  It is not a starch.

A baton of fresh lotus root. One just breaks off each piece to use.

A baton of fresh lotus root. One just breaks off each piece to use.

Fresh lotus root from the store must be dry and firm in touch. If you have a choice, buy the rhizome as two connected pieces, instead of broken or half sliced. As long as the uncut ends look fresh, not mouldy, buy it. Canned lotus root is tasteless and should be a last resort. (Same thing can be said of canned water chestnuts.)

Because of its neutral taste and low calories, a few slices might be simmered in an Asian dessert soup –more as an aesthetic garnish with some minor nutritional benefit.  Frankly I’ve never made such dessert soups.

Kohl rabi consomme, noodle soup simmered with fuzzy melon slices (an Asian veggie), lotus root

Kohl rabi consomme, noodle soup simmered with fuzzy melon slices (an Asian veggie), lotus root. Photo by J. Chong. Consomme was naturally sweet from slowly cooking kohl rabi.

And yes, once upon a time, I did have a few slices in a Chinese medicinal soup that my mother prepared.  But I can’t recall much of the ingredient mixes and would not be comfortable giving it here on the ‘Net without understanding the soup’s real effect.  She only prepared 1-2 types of medicinal soups –a real amateur in this area.

I’m not a gardener but  after combing the Internet, it appears the sacred lotus, nelumbo nucifera, can become a pest  in its prolific spread and growth unless it is carefully cultivated in confined areas.

Lotus Leaf and Flower– A Pillar Watercolour Brush Stroke
The lotus flower as an aesthetic inspiration is not only noticeable in traditional Asian artwork and crafts, but also as a foundational brush stroke in Chinese watercolour

Lotus flower.

Lotus flower –even the seeds in the stamen area are used. Or the stamen is dried for decorative purposes.

painting technique.

Years ago, I tried my awkward hand at classical Chinese watercolour painting in an evening art course.  There are several paint brush strokes that must be mastered over and over until you can impart the right hand pressure, brush stroke flair to execute perfect shading for: a  bamboo stalk, lotus leaf and flower, as well as a branch of  plum blossoms.

I never finished the course.  I felt perhaps I didn’t  know Chinese paintbrush calligraphy to help me.  But now, at least I can appreciate the mastery of single stroke painting style for Chinese watercolour painting when I look at such art work.  Execution of lovely lotus flower paintings within an hour is a serious feat, with only black ink, watery pink-red paint strokes and light touch of stamen yellow.

It’s a wonder that the lotus as the sacred flower in Buddhism, the national flower for India, Vietnam and Egypt, gives us a great deal beyond its shimmering floral brilliance floating on the  calm waters of a summer lake or pond.

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17 thoughts on “Lotus Flower- From Root to Flower to Seed, It Feeds Our Senses

  1. I have never had lotus root and I have never seen lotus root at my local Asian stores. Maybe next time I’m in a bigger Asian store out of town, I’ll look for them.

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    • Perhaps it was just one of these ingredients that your mother (assuming she did most of the cooking) never thought to use or buy. Or you immigrated from Asia when you were very young and moved to a much smaller U.S. city / town.

      Or you didn’t realize what you ate (which happened often to me and I don’t mind this) because it was all mixed into a stir-fry at a restaurant. Anyway, you’ll like it. The taste is neutral enough that hopefully your kids won’t reject it immediately either. :)

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  2. I have never purchased lotus root but now I will and I’ll be choosing based on your advice. To me as a Buddhist the lotus symbolizes Bodhi, which is the state of total mental purity and spiritual perfection, and the pacification of our nature. Most have eight petals corresponding to the Noble Eightfold Path. Your photgraphs are so gorgeous and all that food looks so good. Beloved is making a roast chicken for dinner, but I’m now craving stir fried noodles with snow peas, peppers, lotus root, onion and tofu, and it’s all your fault. ;)

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    • I didn’t know your connection to Buddhism.

      Let me know what dish you prepare with lotus root. It’s not as intimidating as it looks. If one has cooked a dish that used daikon (white radish), then lotus root is not a big deal.

      Wishing you a journey marked by the loveliness of lotus flowers.

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      • Yes, I am a Buddhist. :) Let me share just a little more. The Lotus plant’s roots grow in the deep mud, far away from the sun. But, sooner or later, the flower head reaches the surface of the water becoming beautifully scented as it blossoms in the sun. The Lotus is the symbol of detachment from worldly desires and illusions. It symbolizes purification because in spite of its seed being germinated in stagnant water, and roots being anchored in the mud, the gorgeous flower raises its head to the sun every morning. Hence in Buddhism the lotus flower is a symbol for awakening to the spiritual life. The pattern of growth signifies the progress of the self from the primeval mud of materialism, through the waters of experience, and into the bright sunshine of enlightenment.

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        • If we all could strive to rise above the clutter of material temptations, be comfortable with long periods of contemplative quiet without digital distractions, we would be alot better off.

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  3. The flowers are beautiful and I have one as my screen saver. I don’t think I’ve ever tried the root but will look next time I’m at our Asian grocery. Thanks for this post.

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    • I only knew of the lotus first, by its root and then later, by the flower itself. As you can see, I like highlighting food that has some story and cultural history associated with it. Thanks for dropping by ava! I’m sure you see these flowers in the Philippines.

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