It has been really exciting for us to live in Singapore. When we go to the supermarket there are so many different fruits and vegetables for us to try. Some we know in the US and Australia in their preserved forms (water chestnuts and bamboo shoots) and others are completely foreign to us.
It’s always an adventure to try these new things and the latest ingredients to grace our plates are lotus root and burdock root.
What is a lotus root?
A lotus root is the root of the lotus plant (the very same plant that grows on the top of a pond). The plant is quite a frequently used ingredient in Asian cooking because you can eat the seeds, young leaves, flowers and, of course, the roots. The larger older leaves are even used to wrap up food which is then cooked in the leaf. We are always amazed that and ingredient that is so well known in Asia is virtually unknown to us.
When you buy the lotus root from the store it looks like big white sausage links. It is quite hard and has smooth skin. What strikes you when you pick it up is how light it is – normally root vegetables are quite heavy and dense. The reason for this is that inside it is full of holes.
When you peel it and cut a slice you end up with a crispy little disk with a pattern of holes in it. They really are quite beautiful and wholly (no pun intended!) unexpected.
This is a great vegetable – we’re sorry we didn’t discover it sooner. It has a rather mild flavour and it is so crispy, like a really crisp apple. You can eat it raw in a salad or as a raw pickle or you can cook in any number of ways. It seems to retain its nice crispiness even when cooked. If you sliced them thin, seasoned and baked/dehydrated them, they would probably make a great potato chip alternative.
The lotus root features prominently in Chinese cooking. It is claimed to stimulate the spleen and stomach (to improve digestion), to nourish the blood and to replenish energy.
What is a burdock root?
This is a burdock root!
It is a long (this one is about a metre) brown root that is 2-3cm in diameter. It is quite amazing when you think about it actually growing. That whole root is under the ground – it goes so deep! Think of all the nutrients that the burdock plant can extract by growing that far into the soil. In fact, burdock is sometimes planted when you are rehabilitating a piece of land that has been overgrazed. The root goes down so deep and allows air and water to penetrate into the soil.
Like the lotus root, burdock can be eaten raw but it needs to be cut finely because they can be quite tough and crunchy. When it is cooked it still retains it’s crunch which is quite a pleasant texture in a stir-fry.
We have used burdock this way a couple of times and it is really nice vegetable to have in the rotation. It has a nutty, earthy flavour – like a carrot but not as sweet. The only thing you need to be aware of is that it turns brown really quickly when you cut it. This doesn’t affect the taste so we didn’t worry about it.
The health benefits of the burdock root seem to be endless. It has been used to treat problems with the liver and digestive systems. It has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. It has also been used to treat skin conditions. Anything that can do all that must be worth eating.
What did we do with these unusual roots?
This was the first time we have tried lotus root and we have only tried burdock a couple of times so we really wanted to taste them clearly. We decided to just do a basic stir-fry with an capsicum for some added colour. It tasted great with a sauce made of soy sauce, rice vinegar and honey.
If you come across these roots in a market, don’t hesitate to give them a try. They are easy to prepare, taste great and are really good for you!