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Why Are the Chinese So Crazy About Lotus Root?

Yunnan Lotus Root and Pork

  Yunnan Lotus Root and Pork

The question has multiple answers:

The lotus is a beautiful and functional plant that grows prolifically from the bottoms of rivers or ponds to a height of about a meter and a half.

Its leaves float on the surface of the water with large and lovely, colorful flowers of pink, white and yellow.

The lotus root is revered in China for its health benefits as well as its beauty  – containing a vast array of vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre. The lotus root itself is a long, round, beige vegetable that shows it’s star power when sliced into rounds that look like wagon wheels and its taste is a crunchy texture with a tangy-sweet flavor.

The small yellow lotus seeds of the seedpods are just as healthy and are usually found dried and cooked in sweet soups or fresh and added to stir-fries, even turned into teas, and other Traditional Chinese Medicine applications.

So there you have it…all the good reasons to enjoy lotus root.

Lotus Root

The lotus root dishes served in Beijing have inspired this dish. It’s been adapted to a Yunnan style with the addition of dried red chilli peppers. In some restaurants around Kunming it’s also served with diced green chillies (la jiao) to kick it up a notch in the spice area or you can add to the numbness of the spice with Sichuan peppercorns (prickly ash). It’s your choice.

Serves 4 with other dishes or for one person with steamed rice

 Ingredients for Yunnan Lotus Root and Pork

5-6 inch piece of lotus root, peeled and cut into ¼ inch or thinner slices and soaking water with 1 tablespoon of Chinese white rice vinegar

200 gram piece of pork (any cut – I recommend pork tenderloin), cut into thin slices

1 inch piece ginger, cut into matchstick slivers

1 tablespoon Chinese cooking wine

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 teaspoons and ½ cup cornstarch

3 tablespoons and ½ cup cooking oil

2-5 dried red chillies, diced

2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly

½ red pepper and ½ green pepper, diced

½ small carrot, cut into matchstick slivers

1 teaspoon Chinese chicken bouillon granules

Salt to taste

1 teaspoon sesame oil

½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

Allow lotus root to soak for 20 minutes, submerged a water/vinegar solution, while you are preparing the rest of the ingredients. This will prevent the lotus root from turning dark to keep the white color.

In a small bowl, mix together the pork, ginger, cooking wine, soy sauce, and 2 teaspoons of cornstarch. Set aside to marinate and tenderize for 15 minutes.

Heat the wok, add 3 tablespoons of oil and heat the oil. Carefully drop in the chillies and reduce the heat to low. The number of dried chillies you use will depend on the amount of spice you wish for the dish. When the chillies have infused the oil with aroma, remove them from the oil to a bowl.

Heat the remaining oil in the wok. Add the pork mixture and stir fry to cook the meat – about 5 minutes. Remove from the wok and place in the same bowl as the chillies.

Place the remaining cornstarch in a bowl and remove the lotus root from the water – no need to rinse off the slight vinegar taste. Lightly coat the slices of lotus root with cornstarch, shaking of the excess.

Reduce the heat to low and add 4-5 slices of lotus root at a time to the oil. Fry on either side until light golden brown – the slices will still be crunchy to the taste. Remove slices to the bowl and repeat until all of the slices are light golden brown.

In the remaining oil in the wok, add the garlic, red pepper and carrot and stir fry until crisp and cooked but still brightly colored – about 2 minutes. Add the pork, chillies, lotus root, chicken bouillon granules, and sesame oil and heat for 1 minute. Add cilantro and stir-fry for one more minute. Check the taste for the need to add salt.

Remove from the wok to a platter and serve while hot with steamed rice.

Eat and enjoy this delectable dish!

Yin/Yang Glyph

Dian Dou Hua, the Yunnan Version of Custard

Another specialty of Yunnan Province, Dian Dou Hua (豆花), or Dofu Hua (豆腐花) is literally translated as bean curd flower.

Dou Hua is soft, warm tofu served covered with toppings that add crunch and flavour. This popular Chinese snack or addition to a meal is custardy tofu topped with a variety of tangy toppings from mild flavours of green onion, soy sauce, and sesame oil to intensely flavored chilli oil, pickled vegetables, and stir-fried meat mixtures. The toppings are savoury, spicy, tart, and rich.

My first experience with Dian Dou Hua was in a Kunming restaurant called Square Street Restaurant near the International Conference Centre and the old Kunming Airport. This place serves up traditional local Yunnan/Kunming cuisine and they offer the most refreshing bright yellow and light German Beer made at their own microbrewery. The Dian Dou Hua must be ordered in advance (ordered in the morning for a dinner reservation). It comes to the table in a very hot crock-pot that has been cooked in a very hot and larger cooking crock-pot with many other orders of this simple yet delicious delicacy.

At the table, one must wait about 10 minutes for the dofu to do it’s thing – that is, it arrives in liquid form and congeals to a soft, custard-like consistency, just like ‘baby food’ – and smooth as silk. Once it sets up, the Dian Do Hua is ladled out into small bowls and served with a spicy, chilli oil sauce containing small amounts of ground meat, pickled vegetables and chopped chillies. I’m not much for spicy but in this province, the word is ‘spicy’ for most dishes and I am getting used to the attraction of hot and spicy. The combination of the smooth, mushy dofu and the crunchy, spicy topping is enchanting.

Perhaps they do the same thing here in Kunming, but I’ve never see it but in Sichuan Province in Chengdu, Dou Hua vendors carry a pole across their shoulders with two large baskets attached at either side. One of the baskets contains the steaming Dian Dou Hua and the other contains the bowls and fixings.  First, the tofu is spooned out and then some ground Sichuan pepper or prickly ash is added. Then a sprinkle of MSG, a tablespoon of soy sauce, chili oil, chopped preserved vegetables, bits of ground meat, crunchy dried soybeans, and last of all chopped green onion.

Last time I was at the Square Street Restaurant I took home a small container of the special sauce that they use. There is a dofu seller in my local wet market and I know they sell Dian Dou Hua. I wanted the same taste but eaten at home so today I purchased a 12-ounce cup of Dian Dou Hua for one yuan (the equivalent of 16 cents), heated it up slightly in the microwave along with a spoon of sauce and enjoyed a gorgeous mix of texture and taste of Yunnan for lunch.

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