Renkon! sounds like the name of a monster in a big-budget movie – maybe the Rancor from Return of the Jedi mixed with KING KONG? Run for your life! Get out while you can! The RenKON IS COMING!
But it turns out, renkon is just the Japanese name for lotus root. Yes, that lotus, the flower of which, along with the ohm symbol, took the tattoo market by storm in the late 90’s. I recently visited the gardens at the Heian shrine, where there is a large and quite famous pond full of lotus (it’s the one Scarlet Johansson hops across in Lost in Translation). As calming as a pond of lotus can be, it’s nice to know that beneath the murky pond mud lie hundreds of edible vegetables. When sliced, renkon has a distinctive honeycombed look, with many small holes that look like spokes in a wheel. It adds crunchy, delicious texture similar to watercress, and remains crisp even when fully cooked.
Because lotus grow in ponds, they’re often sold covered in a residue of dark mud at the store. This can be easily washed off in the sink. To cook the renkon, wash and peel the outside. Cut the renkon into thin (less than a half centimeter) slices, and then maybe cut the slices in half to make half-moon shapes. Sometimes I don’t do this; it probably makes them harder to eat, but I think a round slice of renkon is pretty cool-looking.
You can add renkon to stir fries and salads, but I personally prefer it as a grilled or sauteed side dish. Renkon sauteed in mirin and soy sauce is sometimes called kinpira, though I think the word refers more to the way it’s cooked than the actual inclusion of lotus root. Here’s a “Western-style” take on lotus root with mushrooms and carrot.
Roasted renkon with shitake mushrooms (serves 1 – 2)
Ingredients: It’s difficult to give precise amounts – just make however much you want to eat.
1 medium renkon root
1 small package shitake mushrooms (about 7-8 mushrooms)
1/2 medium sized carrot
basil or other italian herb
salt and black pepper
- After peeling, slice the renkon into the thinnest discs you can manage. Slice the discs in half.
- Slice the shitake mushrooms into thin strips.
- Slice the carrot into thin, 2 cm-long strips.
- Put the vegetables in a large mixing bowl and coat with olive oil, salt, pepper, and herbs. Use just enough oil to coat the vegetables, not to pool in the bottom.
- Pour the mixture into the middle of a large piece of aluminum foil. Wrap tightly, ensuring that the foil completely covers the mixture.
- Put the package in your fish broiler and “roast” for 10-15 minutes.
Carefully take out the hot foil package and check for doneness. Serve alongside your favorite main dish. RAHH, RENKON!