This is an elegant looking dish suitable as an appetiser or a side dish. Steamed lotus root balls are made of grated lotus roots mixed with prawns (shrimps), gingko nuts and green peas. They are slightly sticky, and this unique texture is the selling point of the dish. Pour dashi flavoured sauce over them to eat.
Lotus root is a winter vegetable, so here in Sydney I see lotus roots in most Asian grocery stores and Asian vegetable shops. Unfortunately, lotus root is not one of the common vegetables consumed among Aussies and you hardly see it at supermarkets, not even at Harris Farms in Sydney.
Because lotus root is seasonal, I try to cook and eat lotus root dishes as much as possible when fresh lotus roots are available. You can buy frozen sliced lotus roots at Asian grocery stores but some dishes, like today’s steamed lotus root balls, have to use fresh lotus root.
When lotus root is sliced and cooked, it becomes a bit crunchy and has a different texture compared to other vegetables. You can find cooked sliced lotus roots in my dishes, Lotus Root and Mizuna Salad, Gomoku Gohan, Chikuzenni, Gomoku-mame.
But when you grate lotus root and heat it up, it becomes very sticky. This is because lotus root contains starch, which becomes glue when heated, just like corn flour. There are quite a few Japanese dishes utilising the starchy characteristics of grated lotus root and steamed lotus root balls is one of them.
Incidentally, lotus root also contains a good amount of vitamin C and fibre. Because of the starch in lotus root, vitamin C is not as easily destroyed as other vegetables when cooked.
As you can see in the recipe, nothing is added to the grated lotus root mixture to bind the ingredients, yet the ball will stick firmly together once steamed. It is quite a transformation and the first time I made it, I was surprised and then delighted.
I added chopped prawns (shrimps), ginkgo nuts and green peas to the grated lotus root. Being a delicate looking dish, I think that prawns are the best to add to the mixture instead of other meat. It also gives colour to the dish. Instead of ginkgo nuts and green peas, you can use other vegetables such as diced shiitake mushrooms, diced carrots, edamame or corn kernels. Edamame and corn should be pre-cooked.
I placed 4 lotus root balls on a large plate to steam (per photo above) but you could place each ball on a small plate or a shallow bowl individually and steam.
The sauce is a lightly flavoured dashi sauce, thickened with cornflour, which shines when poured over the balls. It is a very light sauce, perfect for this delicate steamed ball. I placed mitsuba (wild Japanese parsley or the Japanese version of Cryptotaenia) on top as a garnish, but it is optional.
Steamed lotus root ball is quite easy to make but grating lotus root is a bit of an effort as it requires arm muscles.
I used to use a 4-sided metal grater when grating lotus root or daikon (white radish) etc. But I found that it was quite hard work using the fine grating side of the grater. This metal grater was one of the cheapest graters and the handle at the top was also metal which was ergonomically unfriendly.
But now I have a Kyocera ceramic grater which works in a totally different way to the vertical metal grater. It is round and flat with sharp spikes in the middle. A silicon ring is glued to the bottom so that the grater sticks to the kitchen bench top and does not move when you grate the vegetables.
Because the grater is placed flat on the table glued to the bottom and the grating surface is facing upward, you will not need to hold the grater – hands free. And you can press the vegetable down with your body weight making grating more effective with less effort.
The photo above is the Kyocera ceramic graters I bought in Japan. I use the small one for ginger (you can see the stain) or garlic. You grate in a circular motion so that the grated vegetables are caught in the outer area. It even came with a small stiff plastic brush to sweep bits on the grating area outward! Attention to detail – a typical Japanese product, I must say.
You may not be able to find this grater in the shops near your home but you can order online if you are interested. Search “Kyocera Advanced Ceramic Grater”.
You can easily make vegetarian version of steamed lotus root balls. Replace prawns with other vegetables which I mentioned earlier and use konbu dashi (see Varieties of Dashi Stock).
Steamed lotus root balls is an elegant looking dish suitable as an appetiser or a side dish. It is a slightly sticky ball mixed with prawns (shrimps), gingko nuts and green peas. Pour dashi flavoured sauce over them to eat.
You can make vegetarian version of steamed lotus root balls by replacing prawns with other vegetables (see note 7 for suggestions). And use konbu dashi (see Varieties of Dashi Stock).
Each ball is about 5cm (2") in diameter.
- 200 g (0.4lb) fresh lotus root
- 3 medium size prawns peeled, deveined and cut into small pieces (note 1)
- ½ tbsp frozen green peas
- 4 boiled ginkgo nuts (note 2)
- a pinch of salt
- 100 ml (3.4oz) dashi stock
- ½ tsp light soy sauce (note 3)
- 1 tsp sake
- 1 tsp cornflour/corn starch diluted in 1 tsp water
- 4 mitsuba leaves (note 4)
Peel the skin of the lotus root and grate very finely (note 5). Put the grated lotus root in a bowl.
Put aside 4 prawn pieces and 4 green peas and add the rest of them to the bowl.
Add a pinch of salt to the bowl and mix well.
Divide the mixture into 4, ensuring that prawns and peas are evenly divided.
Take one portion of the mixture and make a ball. Place one of the reserved prawn pieces, a green pea and a ginkgo nut on the top of the ball, press down gently to embed half way.
Lightly press the ball to flatten a bit and place it on a steaming plate (note 6). Repeat to make 3 more balls.
Turn the steamer on. When steam starts coming up, place the plate of lotus root balls in the steamer. Steam over high heat for 10 minutes with the lid on.
Turn the heat off, remove the balls onto serving plates. Pour the sauce over the balls and place mitsuba on top or side if using. Serve immediately while hot.
Add the Sauce ingredients except the corn flour mix in a small sauce pan and heat over high heat. When it starts boiling, add the corn flour mix in swirling motion and mix quickly. The sauce will thicken. As soon as it starts boiling again, turn the heat off.
1. My prawn was 35g (1.2oz) after peeled.
2. Ginko nuts are the fruits of the maidenhair tree. They are widely used in Chinese and Japanese cuisines, in small quantities. In Japan, ginkgo nuts are often added to chawanmushi or grilled on skewers along with yakitori.
I bought a bag of frozen boiled ginkgo nuts from an Asian grocery store (see photo below). You may also find fresh gingko nuts in the shell. You have to cook them either by boiling for 10 minutes or roasting until the shell cracks, then peel the hard shells as well as the brown membrane.
3. I used light soy sauce so that the colour of the sauce becomes lighter. If you don't have light soy sauce, you can substitute with normal soy sauce, e.g. Kikkoman soy sauce.
4. Mitsuba is a wild Japanese parsley or the Japanese version of Cryptotaenia. Japanese grocery stores usually stock fresh mitsuba. But recently, I learnt from my son that Korean grocery stores also sell mitsuba in a large bunch. I bought it recently from a Korean grocery shop in Eastwood and it was great.
Instead of mitsuba, you can use other green leaves such as small mizuna leaves or julienned blanched snow peas.
5. Lotus root will start to oxidise and become greyish as soon as you peel the skin and the flesh is exposed to air. If you are not grating immediately after peeling the lotus root, keep it in water with a small amount of vinegar. It not only prevents the lotus loot from becoming greyish but also makes the lotus root crisp.
6. Instead of steaming lotus root balls on a large plate, you could place each ball on a small serving plate or a bowl individually and steam. You can then serve the dish straight from the steamer.
7. To make vegetarian version of steamed lotus root balls, replace prawns with diced shiitake mushrooms, carrots, edamame and/or corn kernels. edamame and corn need should be pre-boiled. For dash stock, use konbu dashi (see Varieties of Dashi Stock).