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Lotus: a favorite Vegetable in Hubei
Vegetables and Vegetarian Foods
Spring Volume: 2018 Issue: 25(1) pages: 15 to 17
One food reminds me of my missing where I grew
up,. It is the lotus, and just thinking about it fills
me with homesickness. This food, mistakenly
called lotus root, is not a root but a rhizome. It grows
widely all over China and is one of the most popular
foods in Hubei where I was born and raised. It certainly
is a favorite food of mine.
Several archaeological discoveries confirm its early
existence in China. Botanically known as Nelumbo
nucifera, it was eaten in my country for thousands of
years. We know that because leaves from it were found
fossilized in the 1940s in the Qinghai Province dated
from a million years ago. In 1970, when the Mawangdui
Han Tombs were unearthed in Changsha in the Hunan
Province, people found slices of this vegetable in a
lacquered funerary object. They were only dated from
the early part of the 2nd century BCE.
In 1973, two lotus seeds, dated
from five thousand years ago were
excavated in Zhengzhou in the
Henan Province. Ancient lotus
pollen was found at the Hemudu
site in the Zhejiang Province and
they were some seven thousand
years old. Historical literature talks
about this vegetable in the Book of
Songs written some time between
the 11th to the 6th centuries BCE.
And, in Sorrow after Departure
there are writings about it by Qu Yuan (340 – 278 BCE).
There is a controversy, not its age, but whether China
or India first cultivated the lotus. Historical People in
both countries do take credit for it, and both are fond
of eating it. Whenever it is spoken about or one reads
about it, its beautiful flowers are mentioned. Seems
they always smell good when blooming, and are sweet
The lotus flower does represent many good things in my
culture. The flower represents purity and is found with
sacred intent in religious paintings and sculptures; and
is used in many common rituals. Among intellectuals, it
is considered a gentleman’s flower because it grows up
from the mud and does stay pure. It has huge leaves,
most are almost round, lie flat, and stand for both
family reunion and peaceful living.
People use lotus leaves to wrap food when cooking it,
particularly if it is in small pieces. They do not eat the
leaves but love their aroma when it is cooked that way.
One typical dish in Hangzhou made that way is ‘Beggar’s
Chicken. Lotus seeds, edible and symbolizing being
fruitful and fertile, are very popular at weddings and
other family ceremonies. I adore them fresh in summer
and dried in all seasons, and I often use them when
Their long fat rhizomes are my favorite part. There are
various ways to cook them, each has its fans. This part
of these plants grow horizontally, under water, and in
the mud. They have hollow tubes running through them.
I join all who like to stuff them with a myriad of things
animal and vegetable. (See their picture on next page)
Around 540 CE, Jia Sixie wrote a book titled Qi Min Yao
Shu that includes many basic techniques and traditional
recipes. Intended for common people, this book did
guide folk on how to best cultivate them. Later they read
local views from the Ming and Qing
Dynasties (1368 - 1644 and 1644 -
1911, respectively) advising where
and how they were cultivated
including in Eastern and Central
China, Southern, Southwestern,
and Northern places, and in
Northeastern and Northwestern
parts of my country.
Except in extremely cold areas,
freshwater and irrigated fields are
popular for their cultivation, and
they are considered an alternative staple when grain
shortages exist, as they have during China’s long history.
There, many species are commonly used for their edible
seeds and rhizomes, and their big beautiful leaves are
commonly used ornamentally.
In my hometown, and in area of the Hubei Province,
there are about twenty cultivars of the lotus plant. More
than half are traditional varieties. For those that like to
eat this vegetable as I do, two kinds are most appreciated
for their taste, one juicier, sweeter, and crunchier; best
cooked than sliced or stir-fried. The other kind is more
starchy and some say it puckers the lips when eating
it, but this one is delicious when steaming or stewing,
particularly when adding meat in its preparation.
As a child, I did not like this variety, and it was on my
list of vegetables that I was picky about, and sometimes
still are. As to why, its fibers are annoying, and when I
was young they made me think of spider webs. Widely
planted and in my hometown, all are available in every
season, prepared one way or another. However, then
they were not really appreciated by my stomach. Now I
love dishes made with all of them.
The most popular lotus dish in Hubei is Spareribs and
Lotus Soup. I love it because it is fresh and tasty. Stir-fried,
is another popular way to prepare this vegetable
sliced, diced, or simply fried with ginger and salt, or
fried with chili and vinegar.
I am reminded of a
conversation in my
last there with my
mom. The vendor
did ask, when she
stopped and stared
at a pile of these
they for soup or to
stir-fry?” Then he
showed her two kinds
according to each
this question, my
mom would have
checked the junction
between sections to see if they looked and felt starchy.
For those that did, they would know if they should be for
soup or for a dish that stir-fries them.
One thing to know is what one finds between their
dividing joints. Are they laden with oxygen or iron?
Either could change color from white to blue, even black
if soaked in fresh water as soon as they are peeled or
chopped. There are also color differences particularly
when using stainless steel or implements made of iron.
Gao Lian, a well-known writer born living in Hangzhou
from 1573 to 1620 during the Ming Dynasty, wrote of
his many experiences in a book titled Zun Sheng Ba
Jian. There, he records preparing lotus starch. Now,
people buy it prepared in supermarkets, but in his day
they needed to make their own as it certainly was not
available during Ming Dynasty times. Unlike other
starches, to make it they needed two steps. The first to
mix it with a little cold water, the second to add eight or
nine times that amount of boiling water. They needed to
stir it quickly at the same time so the starch would turn
into a very light pink jelly; or they could add sugar or
osmanthus, if preferred.
Candied lotus stuffed with glutinous rice was a Yua Mei
favorite; he lived from 1716 to 1798 CE and recorded
his preferences in his Sui Yuan Shi Dan volume. My
favorite is to steam this starch made into balls. One
needs some minutes to peel, rinse, and mash lotus
rhizomes, then rub them back and forth on flat blades
over a bowl. There are other steps, too. In my family,
only my grandmother or an aunt, the one who is her
eldest daughter, makes them to please me, and making
them at home is complicated.
These balls are best served during Spring Festival;
and great patience is needed to make them. My best
memories of them are at big annual family gatherings.
I miss them and can offer no recipe, but if you find an
easy one, do share it
with me. Another of
my favorites is of this
vegetable made in
a soup. That recipe
follows as does
another using lotus in
sandwiches, and still
another stuffed with
glutinous rice which
you may know as
sticky rice. Do make
and enjoy them all!
|Spare Ribs and Lotus Soup|
2 sections lotus rhizomes, peeled and chopped, then soaked in cold water
1 Tablespoon salt
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
2 pounds spare ribs, bones discarded, meat separated and cut into small pieces
5 slices fresh ginger
1. Put lotus pieces in a large bowl, sprinkle on the salt
and shake the bowl to evenly distribute the salt; then
allow it to rest for ten minutes.
2. Then heat a wok or deep pan, add the oil, and stir-fry
the meat and the ginger until the meat is no longer pink.
3. Transfer pork and ginger to a stockpot. Rinse the
pieces of lotus root and add to a large stockpot. Add
four cups of water or cover all ingredients with this or
more water, as needed.
4. Cover and bring the wok or pot to the boil. Then
reduce the heat and simmer for forty minutes or more
until the lotus pieces are soft.
5. Blend a pinch more salt, if needed, then pour this into
a pre-heated soup bowl, and serve.
|Lotus and Pork Sandwiches|
1 section lotus rhizome, peeled and thinly sliced
½ pound fatty pork, minced
1 scallion, minced
1 teaspoon fresh minced ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine
2 egg whites, beaten
4 Tablespoons cornstarch
dash ground black pepper
1 cup vegetable oil, divided
thin soy sauce for dipping, optional
1. Mix pork with scallion, ginger, salt, ground pepper,
sesame oil, and wine.
2. Rinse and dry lotus slices with paper towels, and lightly
dust one side of each slice with a little cornstarch, then
put about two tablespoons of the meat mixture between
cornstarch-sided slices and press gently making sure the
meat mixture fills but does not go through every hole.
3. Heat a wok or fry pan, blend rest of the cornstarch with
the beaten egg whites, dip both sides of the sandwiches
in the cornstarch mixture, and fry covering the wok or
pan with a lid, for three minutes, then turn them over
frying their other side, also covering the pan. Add more
oil when next batch of sandwiches goes into the pan.
4. When both sides are golden, drain sandwiches on
paper towels, then transfer them to a clean dry platter,
and serve with optional dipping sauce on the side.
|Pickled Lotus Rhizomes|
2 or 3 lotus rhizomes, peeled and cubed or sliced
3 Tablespoons coarse salt. divided
3 scallions. Cut in half-inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
5 to 10 chili peppers
2 Tablespoons vinegar or brine from chili peppers
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1. In a small pot, cover lotus rhizomes with water, add half
the salt, and boil for five minutes, then cool to medium.
2. Then add the rest of the ingredients and put everything
in a clean canning jar. If needed, add cooled boiled
water to top it off until full, then close and refrigerate
for two to three days, and shake the jar each day. These
contents can be used in up to five days.
3. A second set of lotus pieces can be added, shaken
daily, and eaten in some days, as desired or needed.
|Lotus Stuffed With Sticky Rice|
2 lotus rhizome sections. Separated and scrubbed clean
1 ounce glutinous rice, soaked for half hour, then drained
2 ounces brown rock sugar, smashed
2 ounces cooked brown rice
honey and osmanthus syrup, optional as sauce
1. Cut half inch end off each section of lotus and reserve.
2. Fill each hole in each section, break toothpicks in half,
and close the section with half of three or four of them.
3. Put each section of lotus in a pressure cooker and
cover them with water. Add both sugars to the water,
cover the pressure cooker, bring to the boil, then reduce
the heat and simmer under pressure for half an hour,
then cool them and when cool, open the pan and when
partially cool, slice each one in half-inch pieces. Serve
the honey and the osmanthus in separate small dishes,
or combine them and pour them over the cut slices.
|Lotus Seed Stuffed Cantaloupe|
1 cup lotus seeds
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups sticky rice. Soaked overnight
1/3 cup pearl tapioca
1arge piece brown cubed sugar
2 Tablespoons osmanthus or another light-colored jam
3 Tablespoons goji berries
3 Tablespoons white or bleached raisons
4 Tablespoons toasted pine or walnuts, toasted, then chopped
3 Tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
1 cantaloupe melon per person, seeded, and cut so half stands upright with no place for anything to leak out
1. Put lotus seeds and baking soda in a small bowl and
cover with boiling water. Set this aside until cool. Rinse
and discard any green sprouted parts inside the seeds
and repeat covering them with boiling water and letting
them cool again, then chop them or cut each seed into
quarters. and put the lotus seeds in a steamer basket and
steam them for half an hour.
2. Prepare the tapioca cooking it as the package instructs,
then add it to the sticky rice and simmer a few minutes
until the sugar melts, then add this to the lotus seed
3. Peel the rest of the melon and chop it into one-quarter inch
dice and mix with the diced lotus seed pieces and
all the rest of the ingredients.
4. Put this in the non-peeled melon half that has no place
for anything to leak out. Cover and chill overnight. Then