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The Lotus Eaters. March 11, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. This is humiliating, but I can’t remember who wrote The Lotus Eaters, and never read the novel so I don’t even know the plot. But I had my first experience of lotus-eating at an authentic Szechuan restaurant called The Golden Wok in State College, PA (home of Penn State) a few weeks ago, and it was love at first bite. (How did I know that the restaurant was authentic? The vast number of dishes featuring brains, intestines, feet, and other offal proudly offered on the menu.)

Once back home in the precise middle of nowhere, PA, I was on a mission from God to find lotus root and learn how to prepare and add it to my stir-fries. And finally, I succeeded, finding fresh lotus root (which is apparently actually lotus stem) in an oriental market in scenic Bethlehem, PA.

Then there was just the question of how to prepare it. I turned to my good friend Google for advice. There were a number of suggestions, but the one that made the most sense to me if planning to use it in stir-fry was to peel it and blanch it in water with rice vinegar to prevent discoloration and keep those beautiful, pure white slices white. Everyone praised their crunchy yet creamy contribution to stir-fries and other dishes, but it’s their beauty that really makes them stand out.

I’d also read that lotus seeds (which require considerable preparation) are extremely healthful, so I’d picked up a packet of dried lotus seeds while I was at the market. I’m looking forward to trying them too!

To make my stir-fry, I first blanched broccoli florets in boiling water, then, once they’d turned bright green, removed them with a slotted spoon to a plate. Next, I blanched asparagus spears after cutting them in section, then removed them to the plate. Then I peeled and sliced the lotus root and dropped the beautiful, filigreed white slices into the boiling water, adding a generous splash of rice vinegar. I let them cook for a few minutes, then removed them with the slotted spoon and added them to the broccoli on the plate.

Now it was time for the stir-fry. Taking my stainless-steel wok, I put some canola oil in the bottom and, when the oil had heated up, added diced sweet onion. When the onion had clarified, I added sliced shiitake mushrooms. Then, once the mushrooms had cooked down, I added some chili oil and roasted sesame oil, followed by finely sliced fresh lemongrass and minced fresh ginger.

Now that my base was prepared, it was time to get serious. I added the broccoli and lotus root back to the mix, followed by diced smoked tofu, diced red bell pepper, halved sugar snap peas (with the ends removed), chopped haricots verts (baby French green beans), and a bunch of minced garlic chives. After a couple of minutes, I added splashes of sake, mirin, and shoyu (fresh soy sauce), topped the stir-fry with seaweed gomasio (a mixture of sea salt, powdered seaweed, and roasted sesame seeds), gave a final stir, and turned off the heat.

Finally, I spooned the stir-fry over brown basmati rice and sprinkled some pepitas (raosted pumpkinseeds) on each serving for crunch. Hooray! The stir-fry was delicious, the vegetables cooked exactly as much as (and no more than) they should be, the combination of textures and flavors very enjoyable. Yum!

And what about the lotus root? Well, I certainly wouldn’t describe it as white (perhaps the shoyu had something to do with that), but yes indeed, it was perfectly creamy and crunchy, just the way I’d enjoyed it in the vegetable hot pot. Mission accomplished!

‘Til next time,

Silence

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