Lotus root isn’t usually found in American cuisine, but you can purchase this stem, or rhizome, of the lotus plant in specialty stores and Asian markets. Fresh lotus root looks like a long squash with a papery, reddish-brown peel. It’s in season in the fall; fresh versions are highly perishable so select pickled or frozen lotus root at other times of the year.
A peeled lotus root yields a light pink cylinder that when cut into rounds reveals holes. The texture is somewhat crunchy, like a cucumber, and the flavor is mild and slightly sweet.
Select a lotus root that feels heavy with a firm texture. It should look plump and juicy. As lotus root ages, its exterior and interior colors darken. Spoiled lotus root might be soft and shriveled, or have soft spots. The most spoiled roots can have visible signs of mold or a fermented smell.
Use fresh lotus root within a week of purchase to prevent it from spoiling. If you want to pre-peel the root, immerse the flesh in a mixture of equal parts water and vinegar to keep it from discoloring. Store unpeeled and peeled roots in the refrigerator — even if the peeled roots are in vinegar.
Use lotus root in any number of recipes because it is so mild in flavor and forgiving in texture. Add slices of lotus root to a crunchy vegetable stir fry that includes snap peas, asparagus and celery to highlight its texture. A savory, Asian sauce using oyster sauce and Chinese cooking sherry brings flavor to the otherwise relatively bland vegetable. Add it to Asian-style soups and stews, too, as it will add texture and soak up the flavors.
Fried lotus root rounds are crunchy, similar to potato chips, but make a pretty garnish on salads. Eat it raw, too, just as you would any other type of crudite, with salad dressing or dip. Lotus root can also be an ingredient in Asian desserts.