Sweet and Sour Lotus Root
Actually, it’s a rhizome. But never mind that.
I ordered sweet and sour lotus root at a restaurant not too long ago, and it was my favorite dish of the evening. Naturally, I tried to replicate it at home the very next day.
I looked at the wildly different recipes in Fuschia Dunlop’s two cookbooks, one giving the Sichuan version of this dish, and the other the Hunan version. My version uses elements from both of hers, combined with my memory of what I had tasted when ordering it at Grand Szechuan on St. Mark’s Place in Manhattan, and my general technique for stir-frying (and trying to avoid deep-frying when it’s too cold out to open the kitchen windows).
The lotus root remains crisp when lightly fried, and somewhat sweet. It loses its starchiness when cooked. The sauce is a fairly straightforward sweet and sour sauce, just thick enough to perfectly coat each slice of lotus root. As you make it, feel free to adjust the vinegar and/or sugar to taste to achieve the right balance of sweet and sour for your palate.
I find this delicately beautiful and tasty dish to be utterly addictive, which is a good thing, considering how much lotus root is sitting on my counter right now, waiting to be used.
Sweet and Sour Lotus Root
2/3 lb. lotus root, or 2 sections
1/4-1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp granulated sugar
4 tsp Chinkiang vinegar (balsamic vinegar makes a decent substitute, if need be)
3 3/4 tsp corn starch
3/4 C chicken stock
1 dried Chinese chili (the slender, pointed sort that come about 2″ long)
2 tsp finely chopped ginger
2 tsp finely chopped garlic
3 scallions, only the green parts, finely chopped
Sesame oil to taste
Peel the lotus root and slice it into 1/8″ thick slices. Put the slices in a bowl of lightly salted room-temperature water while you’re preparing the rest of the ingredients.
Create a slurry of the salt, sugar, vinegar, corn starch, and a spoonful of the chicken stock. The idea here is to whisk the corn starch well with the other ingredients so that it does not get lumpy later on.
Remove the lotus root slices from the water and pat them dry.
Heat your wok until it just starts to smoke, then swirl in enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Stir-fry the lotus root slices until they almost begin to brown, but not quite – they will turn a bit more translucent and taste less starchy when they are done. It really does help to do this in smaller batches. As they cook, remove them to a plate covered in paper towels to drain.
Once all the lotus root slices are fried and set aside, throw the single chili into the oil, along with the garlic and ginger. Stir-fry for a moment, until fragrant, then add the chicken stock and, immediately afterwards, the slurry you created earlier. Stir the sauce as it boils and thickens.
When the sauce is thick, remove from heat and stir in the lotus root slices and the scallions, and, if you like, sesame oil to taste.
Serve with rice and several other dishes for a family-style feast.