Sweet soy lotus root (kinpira renkon)
Kinpira renkon is classic Japanese. Salty, umami, and sweet; tender and crunchy — it’s one of the most delicious ways to eat lotus root. You can put it out as an appetiser, or as a side dish to a meal, or as a snack — it’s as addictive as peanuts, and people will keep munching on it. If you aren’t familiar with lotus root, the distinctive pattern of holes might make it seem exotic. But, cooked, it has a warm nutty flavour that’s more comfortable than strange.
From start to finish, kinpira renkon takes only about 25 minutes. You can make large amounts of this at once, and it’ll keep for at least a week in the fridge. Carrots seem to be typical in many online recipes, but I don’t remember seeing them very often in Japan. Chili is also pretty common, but I prefer it without.
Peeling and chopping the renkon is the largest part of the work. Packages of sliced and peeled renkon are available, though, in some Korean and Japanese supermarkets. This recipe is identical to the recipe for kinpira gobo (burdock root). But gobo is more work, since it’s tough, and needs to be cut into matchsticks (it’s totally worth it, though).
– 1 lb (400 g) lotus root
– 2 tbsp (30 ml) vegetable oil
– 2 tbsp (30 ml) sake, or other rice wine
– 1 tbsp (15 ml) mirin
– 1 tbsp (15 ml) sugar
– 2 tbsp (30 ml) soy sauce (or more, to taste)
– 2 tsp (10 ml) sesame oil
– 1 tbsp (15 ml) sesame seeds
Peel the renkon, and slice it into thin (1/4 in ~ o.75 cm) wheels or half moons (they’ll probably fall apart somewhat when you cook stir them in the pan, but you may as well try to make them look nice). As you slice it, put the pieces into a big dish of water, to cover them. This will clean them of some extra starch (which would stick in the pan), and keep them from browning.
If you are doing more than one batch, it’s probably best to only cook about 1lb of renkon at a time. Heat the wok (or a large pan) over a medium high heat, with the vegetable oil. Before the pan is smoking hot, add the renkon, and stir it to coat it with the oil. Let it cook, stirring occasionally prevent sticking.
After about five minutes, the renkon will be hot, and starting to become tender (take a little bite to gauge this). All the excess moisture should have boiled off already. Add the sake or other rice wine, and toss with the renkon. Stir occasionally, until the sake has cooked off. Then, add the mirin and the sugar, sprinkling to evenly distribute over all of the root. Be careful at this point, sine the combination of sugar, and starch from the renkon, can stick and burn pretty easily.
After another minute or so, the mirin should have dried off. Add the soy sauce, taking care to evenly distribute it. Stir the renkon until it’s all coated. Taste, and add more soy sauce, or sugar, if you need to — it should be adequately salty, and lightly sweet. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, and sesame oil, then remoive from heat. You can serve it hot or cold, with a meal, or as a snack.