Friday, January 13, 2006

Cool Down with Lotus

The weather's becoming crazily warm these days. It's to be anticipated as the run-up to Chinese New Year, which falls on 29 January this year, is often hot and dry in Penang. The sun is really high in the sky and the heat penetrates through walls, literally!

On days like these, I am reminded of my childhood where the day's menu would feature cooling soups and sometimes, porridge or congee.
One of the best (and again, easy... if it isn't easy, it won't find its way into my kitchen) soups for warm days when the appetite is waning is a bowl of lotus root soup.

Lotus root soup cures heat in the body, relieves dizziness and heatstroke. It also relieves constipation and improves appetite.

Lotus root comes from the lotus plant, from which you get the beautiful lotus flower. You can also get lotus seeds from lotus pods. The seeds have medicinal value and often the dried seeds (with the green pith removed) are used in herbal soups. The fresh seeds can also be eaten raw, and not everyone likes the taste though.

I haven't seen any fresh lotus pods in Penang though I can get it easily for RM1 per bunch in Ipoh. Here's how a fresh bunch of lotus pods look like (see below).

Anyway, the lotus root is another magic ingredient by itself. You can buy it in any wet market. Ask if it is from China. China-grown lotus roots are bigger and more robust. Locally grown ones are skinnier, according to my vegetable-seller at the Lip Sin market.

Lotus root can be made into a savoury soup or you can also turn it into a dessert (or 'sweet soup'). Just wash the root and peel off the outer skin with a potato peeler. Then slice thinly.

If you want a 'sweet soup'/ dessert, just boil the root slices with 3-4 pitted red dates in a pot of water and add rock sugar when it has simmered for about 45 minutes. It's a lovely cooling drink especially if it is chilled slightly. You can discard the lotus root slices.

For a savoury soup, just place the root slices into a pot of boiling water. Add 6-8 pitted red dates and 300 gm of blanched pork ribs. Again, as with all soups, bring to a rapid boil for 10 minutes. Then cover and simmer for 2 -3 hours. Add salt and a little soya sauce when the soup is almost done. And you'll have a wonderfully light lotus root soup to go with your rice.
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