Lotus root stir-fry (leen gnul siu chow)

In Buddhist culture, the lotus is a sacred symbol of purity. The root, which grows in mud, emerges clean and pure, unchanged by the mud. My Uncle Sam remembers eating raw, sliced lotus root at the August Moon Festival — a time of year when lotus is plentiful in China. Its crisp texture is delightful whether raw or cooked.

This is one of my Auntie Anna’s favorite dishes. She likes it because the combination of crisp lotus root, snow peas, cloud ears, and pickled vegetable is so pleasing. It is especially good if Chinese bacon is available. Fresh lotus root is sold in three connected sections — the larger section is best for stir-fries, the two smaller sections are best for soups (Lotus Root Soup). Some produce markets precut the lotus root into sections and seal them in Cryovac. I prefer not to buy lotus root that has been wrapped, because it prevents me from checking to see if it has a clean, fresh smell.

Salted turnip is only available in Chinese supermarkets. There are many different kinds of salted turnip, which are not distinguished in English on the label. You’ll have to ask for it by its Cantonese name, teem choy poe. Teem choy poe is available in 7-ounce packages; the slices are 3 to 5 inches long, 1/2 inch wide, and khaki colored.

1/4 cup cloud ears (wun yee)
1/4 cup lily buds (gum tzum)
7 pieces salted turnip (teem choy poe), about 2 ounces
1 large section lotus root, about 6 ounces
3 ounces Chinese Bacon, store-bought or homemade
1 1/2 teaspoons Shao Hsing rice cooking wine
1 teaspoon thin soy sauce
3/4 teaspoon sesame oil
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 thin slices ginger
8 ounces snow peas, strings removed

Place the cloud ears and lily buds in separate bowls. Pour about 1/2 cup cold water over each ingredient and soak for about 30 minutes to soften. When softened, drain and discard the water. Remove the hard spots from the cloud cars, and remove the hard end from the lily buds, tying each lily bud into a knot.

Meanwhile, soak the salted turnip in cold water to cover for 30 minutes. Drain. Cut each piece in half crosswise, then thinly cut length-wise into fine shreds and set aside.

Using a vegetable peeler, peel the lotus root, removing the rootlike strands, and rinse under cold water. Cut the lotus root in half length-wise and rinse again to remove any mud lodged in the root. Slice the lotus root into 1/4-inch-thick half moons. Rinse again in case there is any mud, and set aside to drain well.

Remove the hard rind from the Chinese bacon, and the thick piece of fat attached to the rind, and discard, Cut the bacon crosswise into very thin slices.

In a small bowl combine 3 tablespoons cold water, rice wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, salt, and pepper.

Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok or skillet over high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the vegetable oil and ginger, and stir-fry 10 seconds. Add the Chinese bacon and stir-fry 45 seconds, Add the lotus root and stir-fry 1 minute. Add the snow peas, cloud ears, lily buds, and turnip, and stir-fry another minute. Swirl in the rice wine mixture and stir-fry 2 to 3 minutes, or until the lotus root is tender but still crisp, and the snow peas are bright green. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6 as part of a multicourse meal.

Taken from Grace Young’s book “The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen” with permission. © Grace Young. Published by Simon & Schuster, Inc. ISBN 0-684-84739-6.