THE aquatic lotus flower is often used as a symbol of beauty but the lotus is about more than just appearance – the plant is a valuable and delicious food that flourishes in summer.
The large, elegant leaves are used as a wrap for food, especially prized since their delicate scent helps counteract the strong smell of some meats.
The root is utilized as a vegetable in soups, and it can be deep fried, stir fried, and used in braised dishes. It can be served salty or sweet.
The lotus seeds are quite versatile, and can be eaten raw. They also can be boiled until soft and made into a paste. When combined with sugar, lotus seed paste is one of the most common ingredients of pastries such as mooncakes and Chinese puddings.
The petals sometimes are used for garnish, and ancient Chinese found a way to extract the flower’s scent by placing tea leaves in the bud.
Today, Shanghai Daily introduces lotus dishes that are popular among Hangzhou locals and can be made at home.
Lotus Leaf Beggar’s Chicken
This is the signature dish of Hangzhou. The lore of this traditional dish says it was accidentally invented by a starving beggar in Hangzhou during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) who stole a chicken and hid it in haste by covering it in mud near a riverbank.
He returned to retrieve it at night and, without a cooker, placed the entire chicken directly into an open fire. A clay crust formed as it cooked, and when it was cracked open, the feathers came right off, exposing juicy tender meat and an incredible aroma.
People today select a fat young chicken, clean it thoroughly and add seasoning before wrapping it with a whole lotus leaf and throwing it into a fire. It is aromatic, tasty and tender.
People can find the dish at traditional Hangzhou cuisine restaurants such as Lou Wai Lou and Zhi Wei Guan.
Another widely known Chinese dish that uses the leaves is Steamed Ribs Wrapped within Lotus Leaves. The leaves are used to counteract the strongest smells of the meat.
Lotus leaf porridge
Cooling lotus leaves are often used during the hot summertime, and lotus leaf porridge is a simple dish good to make at home. The leaves also are said to reduce blood fat and blood pressure.
Boil a handful of lotus leaf pieces (both fresh and dried work) in hot water for a minute so as to remove bitterness. Change the water and boil the lotus leaf pieces again for a few minutes until the water turns yellow.
Take out the pieces, add rice to the water, and follow the usual steps for cooking porridge. Crystal sugar and gou qi (è?è?, Chinese wolfberry), a sweet and small red herb that looks like a raisin, can be added before the porridge is done cooking.
This porridge is particularly delicious because of the characteristic fragrance of lotus leaves.
Lotus root soup with pork ribs
This easily made soup is famous for calming coughs and is said to be good for the body in dry weather. A classical Cantonese dish, it is used by Hangzhou residents to help relieve autumn heat.
Remove the skin of the lotus root and slice it 1 centimeter thick. Cut the pork ribs into strips. Boil the ribs with some ginger slices until the meat is blanched, and then add the lotus root, ribs and peanuts to a pot of cold water.
Turn the pot on high heat for 15 minutes, then switch to low heat for 60 to 90 minutes, or until the pork ribs fall off the bone and the peanuts are soft. Add salt.
Pigs’ feet can be substituted for pork ribs.
Lotus root powder
Lotus roots often are made into ou fen (?o·?), a translucent, sweet and sticky starch in Hangzhou. It is considered a very nourishing food in China. Made with lotus root powder, sweet osmanthus and other ingredients, it is packaged as an instant food and is often mixed with hot water for a pleasant drink.
To make the powder, the crunchy dried root is reduced to tiny white granules with a reddish tint. The prepared drink, a tonic, is translucent, light pink in color and easy to digest.
It is said to be especially good for infants, the elderly and people who are weak. To make a smooth instant ou fen, add a little cold water to cover, stir until creamy, then add very hot water and continue to stir until thick.
Candied lotus roots
A traditional dessert in Hangzhou, candied lotus roots have a sweet smell and luscious taste. They are a starter in many restaurants selling Hangzhou cuisine and also are easily made at home.
First, glutinous rice should be soaked in water for around an hour. The lotus root should be peeled and the larger end sliced off, completely exposing the holes. Next, stuff glutinous rice into the holes using chopsticks. Then use toothpicks to hold the stuffing in the sliced lotus root end.
Place the stuffed root in a pot of water, bring to a boil and simmer for around an hour. Add rock sugar while cooking.
Once cooked, let the root cool and cut into slices. It can be sprinkled with osmanthus sugar and honey. All the ingredients are available in supermarkets.
The green, shower-head-shaped plant you see vendors sell along streets is lotus seedpod (lian peng,á???), and inside are the lotus seeds (lian zi, á?×ó).
Lotus seeds are very popular in south China, and are believed to calm the nerves. They can be eaten raw, and have a fruity smell, a nut-like texture and a light, sweet taste.
One thing to watch for is that the green-and-yellow young plumule in the middle of the seed is rather bitter and is used in traditional Chinese medicine to clean the body’s “fire.”
To keep its herbal value, extract the plumule and infuse it in a cup of tea, or swallow it with the seed.
Chinese people also dry lotus seeds to use later in soups, porridges and desserts.
Lotus flower tea
This romantic recipe was invented by ancient Chinese. Wrap some dry green tea leaves in gauze, and place the gauze tea bag in a lotus bud at night – buds about to bloom are best. As the flower blooms the next morning, take out the tea bag.
The tea can be infused after repeating the steps several times, which will strengthen the delicate aroma.
A modern way to shorten the procedure is to place the tea bag in a lotus bud, and then wrap the budin a plastic bag and place it inthe freezer for two days.