Lotus root is a nutritious root vegetable that you can use in a number of Asian dishes, particularly those from China. It is best known for its striking lacy appearance when sliced. Lotus root is not particularly common in the West so your best bet for finding it will be your local Asian grocery store. If shopping for it is out of the question, maybe you can try one of the lotus root substitutes below.
Your best bet: Jicama
If you cook a lot of traditional Mexican food, then you have probably encountered jicama at some point. Jicama is a root vegetable that first became trendy back in the early 2000s and which has since become somewhat less fashionable.
While it may have declined in trendiness among restaurant chefs, you can still find it on the shelves in many Latin markets. It shows up in salads and sometimes it is used to make fries.
Like lotus roots, you can serve it boiled or fried. Its flavor is understated and it has a similar crunchy texture as that of lotus roots, which means that you can use it in most dishes that require lotus roots. Jicama contains nutrients like inulin and iron, so you will get some of the lotus root’s benefits from it.
That said, the appearance of jicama is dramatically different from that of lotus roots. Jicama is round like rutabaga; lotus roots are cylindrical. Jicama will also be missing the holes that give lotus roots its distinctive wagon-wheel appearance when sliced laterally.
A decent second choice: Salsify
You can use salsify as an alternative to lotus root due to its mild flavor and crunchy texture. Salsify is a classic European vegetable, which means that it does not show up in traditional Asian recipes; however, it should bring many of the same nutrients and other benefits.
The downside of salsify is that it is not a particularly common vegetable. You should also note that like jicama, salsify lacks the holes that you see in lotus root slices. Salsify is rich in fiber and you can eat it in both its cooked and uncooked states. Like lotus roots, you will need to soak your salsify in water containing an acid such as vinegar or lemon juice to keep it from browning.
In a pinch: Burdock root
Burdock root plays the same role in Japanese cooking that Jicama plays in traditional Mexican cooking and that salsify plays in many classical European dishes. It is a great lotus root substitute due to its subtle flavor and the fact that it is white and crisp.
Burdock root is traditionally used in Japanese stews and stir-fried dishes. You can boil, bake or fry it just like lotus root and the other substitutes above. One of the popular ways to consume it is in its pickled form; pickled burdock root is a good substitute for pickled lotus root. Burdock root is a good source of inulin and iron.
Water chestnuts are a good alternative to lotus root if the texture is a priority; the textures of these two plants are very similar. Water chestnuts are much smaller than lotus roots and are not actual nuts in spite of the name. They are very similar to lotus roots in that they are an aquatic vegetable with a crunchy texture.
Rutabaga is another starchy root vegetable that you can use in many of the dishes that call for lotus root. Rutabaga can be consumed raw but is most often boiled and mashed, baked or fried. Unlike lotus root, rutabaga is not prone to browning when it is exposed to air.