Today's recipe is for braised lotus roots (yeon-geun-jorim: 연근조림), something that my readers and viewers have been requesting for years! The roots taste somewhere between a potato and a radish, and braising them like this makes for a sweet, salty, and chewy side dish. It's for special occasions and not something that you eat every day. It takes some time to make but the texture is very unique: soft with some crispiness, but also chewy and jellylike.
When I lived in Korea yeon-geun-jorim was something we often put in lunchboxes for school picnics. Just a few of them in the lunchbox, pretty and shiny like gems surrounded by other side dishes, make the whole lunchbox look beautiful. The braised root slices look like garnishes but are actually really tasty to eat.
Lotus roots are tough, so you first need to prepare them properly. You can actually eat the roots raw but for this recipe we soak and blanch before braising them. Soaking them removes excessive starch. The root has a subtly astringent taste, but a little bit of vinegar (any kind) will remove it. The vinegar also makes the root slices a little whiter.
Lotus roots can be found at a Korean, Chinese, or Japanese grocery store. These days, when I visit a Korean grocery store, I see pre-sliced lotus root packed in some liquid being sold. You can try them but they usually look too white and too thin for me.
Choose roots that are smooth and evenly colored with no blemishes. It's almost impossible to find a perfect one with no brown spots at all, so you need to compromise and get the one with the fewest freckles. : ) I like to get the roundest one I can so my yeon-geun-jorim ends up round like a circle. But writing this, I kind of feel bad for triangle or distorted shaped roots. Yeon-geun-jorim can be triangular, why not? You might like that better as long as it tastes the same as round one!