My childhood life revolved around everything lotus. I snacked on pearl-white, juicy lotus seeds before they turn into gorgeous flowers. Watching Chinese martial arts movies also taught me that good people could levitate by sitting on the lotus flower. Naturally, whenever I drew my character sketch, I would give my protagonists a lotus flower as his vehicle. (Who needs spaceship when you can have all edible mode of transportation?) My favorite part of the lotus is actually its roots obviously because it is the tastiest. Even in their raw form, lotus roots are crunchy, starchy and sweet. They are a million times better than potatoes (sorry, I don’t mean to hate on potatoes), and are truly unsung heroes in foodies’ diary. When you break a lotus root, stretchy fibers emerge from the broken ends. As a kid, I would wonder these little weird fun things like making a strong out of lotus root fibers and snacking on random stuffs. It always amazes that my brain registers this seemingly mundane experience so well, while I cannot retain chemistry equations despite more time has spent on memorizing those. So, yea the “ancient” people are not right when they brainwash us to value “little things” in life.
During the past winter break, I spent a disgusting amount of time on food documentary. One particular segment was about the process of harvesting lotus root along Hubei province in China. During the harvest season, farmers would try to feel the lotus root with their feet under mud, and dig them up. The process is tedious and long, and can take up to 5 months. For harvesters, lotus root is more than just a way to make money, but also an integral component of their culture, social circles and identity. I don’t mean to sound as if I know in-depth about the lives of lotus root harvesters because I don’t. I am writing rather to express my admiration and respect for their simple yet rustic lifestyle. By contrast, for people like us living with supermarkets around the corner, it is almost impossible to imagine how strongly people’s lives are connected to a single food source. If my Trader Joe’s ran out of carrots, I might be upset for a teeny bit, but I am pretty sure I will just buy a daikon, and forget about the carrots altogether. Weirdly enough, watching the process of lotus root harvest has made me want to eat and appreciate the tuber more. I hope I made justice to this amazing root with my recipe.
What I love about this recipe is it is interesting and beautiful. One of those dishes that make you want to dive in the moment you lay your eyes on them. Furthermore, the lotus root is an excellent vehicle to carry out warmth of cumin, licorice-y fennel, smoky paprika and sweet molasses. For some reasons, unlike other roasted vegetables, this lotus roots taste even better the next day on a warm bowl of rice or congee (rice-porridge).
- 8 slices of lotus root (1/4 inch thick)
- 2 teaspoons of paprika, and cumin
- 20 seeds of fennels
- 1 tablespoon of molasses
- ½ cup of oil
- Salt and pepper
- Peel, wash and slice the lotus root.
- Blanch the lotus root slices in salted water by boiling for 2 minutes.
- Drain thoroughly, and mix with oil, and spices.
- Lay them on the baking sheet or cast iron skillet and bake them in the pre-heated oven for 25 minutes at 450 degree.
- Turn the slices at half-way through the baking.