Video: Making the French Toast of Café Bread, Espresso & (パンとエスプレッソと) in Japan at Home

Watch video at You Tube (7:35 minutes) . . . . .

Torrijas Caramelizadas – Spanish-Style Caramelized French Toast

Sasha Marx wrote . . . . . . . . .

I’m one of those people who doesn’t think of themself as a sweets person, but still orders dessert most of the time when out for a meal, and is then haunted for years by the perfection of some of those dishes. Recently I’ve been pining for the perfect torrija, the Spanish cousin to French pain perdu (what we call French toast), that I had nearly two years ago at Elkano, a restaurant in Basque country. It was a small block of brioche-like bread, saturated in a sweet custard, with a crunchy brûléed sugar top, served in a pool of the lightest crème anglaise I’ve ever tasted, with a spoonful of milk ice cream on the side and a slightly dated milk foam over top. Once you broke through the sugar shell, the bread was like pudding—it was perfect. Of course, there’s no travel now, and I can’t even start a quest to find the best torrijas in New York, so if I wanted torrijas, I was going to have to make them myself.

Traditional and Modern Torrijas

The torrija that blew me away at Elkano—with its milk foam, brûléed sugar crust, and quenelle of ice cream—was decidedly modern in its presentation. On a different visit to Madrid years before around Easter time, I had enjoyed more straightforward versions of torrijas at the aptly named La Casa de las Torrijas, where they serve snack-sized portions of milk- and sweet wine–soaked torrijas. After soaking, these torrijas were coated in lightly beaten egg, deep fried in olive oil, and sprinkled with granulated sugar right before serving.

They were completely different from the iteration I had in Basque country, but still so delicious. The fried egg coating was delicately chewy compared to the crunchy sugar topping of the torched torrija, and the center had a more familiar French toast–like structured softness that still required a little wrist muscle to cut through the bread with a fork, in contrast with the other’s spoonable custardy interior. It was more a sweet mid-afternoon snack, while the Elkano one was a dessert through and through.

To get a better understanding of what was what in the world of torrijas, I reached out to two Spanish chefs, Barcelona native chef Marc Vidal, of Boqueria in New York, and Chef Anthony Masas, who cooked for years at El Bulli before moving to the Dominican Republic where he is now the culinary director at the Casa De Campo resort. Both confirmed my hunch that the olive oil-fried torrijas I had in Madrid were more traditional—of course, it doesn’t take a certified culinary sleuth to suspect that people weren’t rescuing stale bread in the old days with spoonfuls of milk foam and blowtorches. But both chefs favor the more modern approach to preparing torrijas at their restaurants; deep frying in olive oil gets expensive, and requires dedicated kitchen space and staff, which isn’t the most practical for establishments that aren’t known as the “House of Torrijas.”

The Bread and Soaking Liquids

I asked Vidal and Masas about their preferred bread and soaking liquids for torrijas, explaining that I had come across recipes that called for soaking stale bread in sweetened dairy (some with just milk, others with a mixture of milk and cream), others that called for dairy mixed with eggs, and yet more that included sweet wine. Both chefs like to use soft but dense breads like pullman or brioche, which can soak up a lot of moisture.

Basque food expert Marti Buckley notes in her excellent cookbook Basque Country that brioche has become the bread of choice for ogi torrada, the Euskara (Basque) term for torrijas. Because pullman and brioche loaves are both readily available in the States, I decided to go with those as my torrijas breads of choice.

As for what to soak the bread in, I ran a series of side-by-side tests that included varying ratios of all-dairy mixtures ranging from all-milk to a half-and-half mixture of milk and cream; custard bases with egg; and even fried up some traditional milk-soaked and egg-washed torrijas to see how they stacked up. I settled on a custard base made with whole milk that is infused with vanilla, cinnamon, and orange zest and then whisked with egg yolks. It strikes the right balance of eggy richness without being heavy, and it gave me the opportunity to turn the soaking mixture into a crème anglaise–like sauce for the finished dish, eliminating waste.

Do You Need Stale Bread to Make Torrijas

When developing our recipe for French toast, Daniel ran his own series of tests comparing fresh, stale, and oven-dried bread to see if you really needed to start with “lost” bread. The answer was no, oven-drying fresh bread works fine for regular French toast. Because this recipe for torrijas involves such thick slices of bread (2 inches thick to be precise), I decided to run some tests of my own just to make sure that oven-dried bread would still cut it.

Historically, torrijas, just like pain perdu, was a dish born out of necessity and frugality—leftover stale bread was saved from getting tossed away by soaking it in milk or wine, coating with eggs, cooking it, and then sweetening with sugar or honey. Torrijas are traditionally made during the semana santa, the holy week at Easter time, and while its association with the holiday is not completely clear, Marti Buckley explains that some theorize that it was a way to use up an abundance of bread baked during Lent. The religious connection to torrijas may be shrouded in mystery, but we can figure out if in modern times it should still be made with stale bread.

I ran a side by side test with pieces of three-day-old bread that I staled on a wire rack against a one-day-old loaf that I cut into pieces the day of testing and dried in the oven. The pieces started with the same weight, and were soaked in one-minute intervals, with their weights recorded after each interval. As you can see in the photos above, the stale bread initially soaked up much more of the custard base than the oven, but over the course of a few minutes those numbers evened out. There’s only so much liquid that a piece of bread can absorb. So if you have stale bread, use it, but if you just have a fresh loaf of pullman, there’s no need to wait for days for it to go through the retrogradation cycle. Pop it in a low oven to dry it out and you’re good to go.

One note: Because fresh, oven-dried bread isn’t actually staled but just lightly dehydrated, it does end up more delicate after soaking. I had to be very careful removing the 1-day-old piece of bread from the custard base, while the 3-day-old bread was slightly easier to maneuver. In either case, for these thick slabs of torrija, you want to push the soaking time to the limit so as to achieve that pudding consistency at the center. After soaking, I want my torrija bread to be like me at the end of 2020: barely holding it together.

The Sauce is in the Soaking Liquid

As Kristina noted in her recent treatise on pastry cream, there is a lot of overlap in the custard extended universe. Combine dairy, eggs, and sugar and you have a base for soaking bread for French toast. Gently heat that base until the egg proteins denature and coagulate and you have pourable crème anglaise. Chill, churn, and freeze that mixture and you’ve made ice cream. Or add starch and cook to make pastry cream. In this case, I wanted a sauce to pair with the torrijas, so crème anglaise was the name of the game.

After soaking oven-dried pieces of bread for torrijas, I simply take the leftover custard base and gently heat it to 175°F, until the yolks have thickened the sauce to a spoon-coating consistency. It’s a little more work than your standard weekend French toast, but this no-waste approach rewards you with a rich and silky sauce for a pull-out-all-the-stops torrijas that reaches show-stopping dessert heights. Foam not included.

Why It Works

  • Soaking thick pieces of bread produces torrijas with a custardy center that plays the perfect foil to the crunchy caramelized sugar topping.
  • Increasing the quantities for the custard base used to soak the bread allows for excess to be turned into a rich crème anglaise—the sauce is in the soaking liquid.

Recipe

Ingredients

11 ounces (320g) pullman or brioche bread (about one-third to one-half of a loaf)
1-1/2 cups (375ml) whole milk
1 cinnamon stick or pinch ground cinnamon
1/2 vanilla bean (2g), split and scraped or 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Two 3- by 1-inch strips orange zest from 1 large orange
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
7 tablespoons (88g) plain or toasted sugar, divided
5 large egg yolks (75g)
2 tablespoons (28g) unsalted butter

Directions

  1. If using fresh bread, adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 225°F (110°C). Set a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet. Using a bread knife, remove crusts from bread, then cut into four rectangular pieces that are 2 inches thick and about 1 1/2 inches wide and 4 inches long (the width and length of the pieces can be determined by the size of your loaf of bread; it’s the thickness of the pieces that is most important). Arrange bread pieces on prepared baking sheet, leaving at least 1 inch of space between each piece, and bake, flipping pieces over halfway through, until lightly toasted and dry on their surface, 30 to 45 minutes. Transfer baking sheet to a heatproof surface to cool slightly, and increase oven temperature to 375°F (190°C). If using stale bread, you can skip the toasting step; cut the bread into pieces as described and preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Meanwhile, in a 2-quart saucier or saucepan, combine milk, cinnamon, vanilla, orange zest, and salt. Set over medium-low heat and cook, stirring frequently with a rubber spatula, until milk registers 190°F (88°C) on an instant-read thermometer, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside to steep for 30 minutes.
  3. While the milk steeps, whisk together 1/4 cup (50g) sugar and egg yolks in a medium bowl until sugar is dissolved and mixture turns pale yellow, 2 to 3 minutes. Set a fine-mesh strainer over bowl with egg mixture, and slowly pour one-third of milk mixture into yolk mixture to temper, whisking constantly to prevent yolks from curdling. Add remaining milk mixture, whisking constantly until well-combined; set aside but don’t clean strainer; wipe out saucepan.
  4. Add bread to custard base and soak, turning pieces occasionally to ensure they are coated on all sides, until fully saturated and soft (they should barely hold together, so handle with care), 5 to 6 minutes. Using a small spatula, carefully transfer bread pieces to a plate, allowing excess liquid to drip back into the bowl of custard base; set bread pieces aside.
  5. Strain custard base through fine-mesh strainer into now-empty saucier; you should have between 3/4 to 1 cup (175 to 240ml) of liquid. Return to stovetop; once again set aside but don’t clean strainer, and wipe out bowl. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon to prevent egg yolks from curdling, until mixture registers 175°F (79.5°C) on an instant-read thermometer and thickens slightly so that it coats the back of a spoon, 3 to 5 minutes. Working quickly, remove from heat and pour crème anglaise through fine-mesh strainer back into now-empty bowl. Place piece of plastic wrap directly on surface of crème anglaise to prevent skin from forming, and refrigerate until ready to use.
  6. In a medium cast iron skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat until just foaming. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons (25g) sugar in an even layer over butter, then add bread pieces to skillet. Cook, carefully turning pieces occasionally, until lightly browned on all sides, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer skillet to oven, and bake until bread pieces are heated through at the center, about 5 minutes.
  7. Remove skillet from oven, and carefully flip bread pieces over so that bottom sides that were in contact with the pan are facing up. Sprinkle remaining 1 tablespoon (13g) sugar evenly over bread pieces. If using a blowtorch, ignite torch and caramelize sugar by sweeping flame 2 inches above bread pieces, until sugar is bubbling and deep golden brown. If not using a blowtorch, simply serve with the sprinkled sugar on top.
  8. Divide crème anglaise between individual serving plates, followed by bread pieces. Serve immediately.

Yields 4 servings.

Source: Serious Eat

How to Make Dry-fried Beef Rice Noodles – a Hong Kong Favourite

Susan Yung wrote . . . . . . . . .

Gon chow ngau ho – dry-fried beef rice noodles – is a beloved dish in Hong Kong, where you can find it anywhere from dai pai dongs to high-end restaurants. “Dry-fried” doesn’t mean the ingredients are cooked without liquid or oil; it’s just a term that differ­entiates this version of beef ho fun (rice noodles with beef) from another that is wetter and saucier.

In restaurants, chefs cook this dish in a large wok over an enormous gas fire. At home, where we use a smaller wok over a regular gas range, it’s important that you don’t cook too much at once – it’s best to stir-fry enough for a maximum of two people at a time, or the rice noodles will get soggy. Still, even using a household gas range, the ingredients take just a few minutes to cook.

Fresh rice noodles are different from dried rice noodles, which I don’t recommend for this dish. Fresh rice noodles are oiled and stacked before being sliced into strips (about 6cm-8cm wide). When you get them home, separate the stacked noodles into individual single-noodle strips while they are at room temperature; if you try to separate them after they have been refrigerated they will break apart.

If they were refrigerated when you bought them, and there­fore hard, put the noodles – still in the plastic bag – in the microwave and zap for about 30 seconds before checking to see if they are soft enough, or, after squeezing out the air, tie the top of the bag so water can’t leak in, and submerge it in hot water until the noodles are soft, then separate them.

You don’t want to put the noodles directly into hot water, or they will become soggy. The noodles should also be pliable when you cook them, so, again, if necessary, warm them, in the bag, in the microwave or in hot water.

This dish is primarily about the noodles; the beef is there to flavour them. Because of that, I’ve used a fairly small amount of meat. If you like a beefier dish, double the amount of meat and the marinade ingredients. The cooking time should be about the same. Choose a tender cut of beef, such as sirloin, oyster blade or flank.


For the rice noodles:

300-350 grams fresh rice noodles
20 ml dark soy sauce
15 grams kecap manis (Indonesian dark soy sauce)
1 tsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp fine sea salt, plus more as necessary

For the beef and vegetables:

2-3 thin slices peeled ginger
100 grams boneless beef
1-1/2 tsp light soy sauce
1-1/2sp rice wine
1/2 tsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
1/4 tsp finely ground white pepper
1 tsp oyster sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil
5 grams cornstarch
1/2 medium-sized onion, about 100 grams, peeled
20 grams spring onions
25 grams flat Chinese chives
30 grams bean sprouts
about 40ml cooking oil, divided

To serve:

chilli sauce to taste


  1. If the noodles are hard, heat them until pliable, either in the microwave or by submerging the tightly sealed bag in hot water. Unwrap the noodles, separate them and put them into a bowl.
  2. In a small bowl, stir the dark soy sauce with the kecap manis, sugar and salt. Pour this over the rice noodles and mix so they are coated evenly, then take them out of the bowl and lay them on a plate to air-dry while preparing the other ingredients. Save the liquid in the bowl.
  3. Thinly slice the beef across the grain into strips. Put the pieces in a bowl and add the light soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, salt, white pepper, oyster sauce and sesame oil. Mix thoroughly, then add the cornstarch and mix again.
  4. Thinly slice the onion. Cut the spring onions and chives into 3cm lengths.
  5. Place a well-seasoned wok over a high flame. When the wok is hot, pour in about 10 ml of oil. Swirl the wok so it is coated with the oil, and when it’s hot, add the onion and stir-fry until lightly wilted (about 30 seconds). Add the spring onions and chives and stir-fry for about 15 seconds. Transfer the ingredients to a bowl, leaving behind as much oil as possible.
  6. Heat the wok again over a high flame, then pour in about 10 ml of cooking oil. Add the ginger and stir-fry for about 10 seconds. Stir the beef in the bowl to recombine the ingredients, then add the beef and marinade to the wok. Stir-fry for about 30 seconds, or until the beef starts to lose its pink colour. Take the beef from the wok and add it to the vegetables.
  7. Heat the wok again over a high flame and add 20 ml of oil, swirling it to coat the pan. When the oil is starting to smoke, add the noodles and a light sprinkling of salt. Stir gently so the noodles are coated with oil, then spread them to the sides of the wok so they heat evenly. After about 20 seconds, stir the noodles, then again spread them along the sides of the wok and leave for about 20 seconds.
  8. Stir the noodles, then push them to the centre of the wok. Add the vegetables and beef and stir well.
  9. Pour the liquid used to season the noodles into the wok along the sides of the pan. Add the bean sprouts and stir well.
  10. Taste some of the rice noodles for seasoning, and if needed, stir in a little more salt and/or light soy sauce.
  11. Transfer the ingredients to two dinner plates and serve immediately, with chilli sauce.

Source: SCMP

Hemingway’s Hamburger

Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan wrote . . . . . . . . .

Fingers deep, I kneaded. Fighting the urge to be careless and quick, I kept the pace rhythmic, slow. Each squeeze, I hoped, would gently ease the flavors—knobby bits of garlic, finely chopped capers, smatterings of dry spices—into the marbled mound before me.

I had made burgers before, countless times on countless evenings. This one was different; I wasn’t making just any burger—I was attempting to recreate Hemingway’s hamburger. And it had to be just right.

My quest had begun in May when I read a newspaper story about two thousand newly digitized documents of Ernest Hemingway’s personal papers in Cuba finally wending their way to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. This was the second batch of Hemingway papers to arrive from his home in Cuba, where he lived from 1939 to 1960, and wrote numerous stories and the celebrated novels For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea.

In his Havana home—Finca Vigía, or “Lookout Farm,” a large house and sprawling tropical gardens filled with mango and almond trees—between tapping out books like A Moveable Feast (while standing up at his typewriter), he also enjoyed dining well and entertaining. The ubiquitous Hemingway Daiquiri, after all, comes from his time in Havana, when he wandered into the El Floridita bar, had his first taste of a daiquiri, then ordered another with no sugar—and double the rum. (So the story goes, anyway.)

As both a food writer and Hemingway acolyte, I had long been aware of his immense appetites—for life, adventure, drink, and a good meal. So it wasn’t surprising that one line in this article should strike me: “The more mundane, like his instructions to the household staff, including how to prepare his hamburgers: ground beef, onions, garlic, India relish, and capers, cooked so the edges were crispy but the center red and juicy.” Hemingway’s idea of a perfect hamburger? I had to try it.

While I may have found this fascinating, the interesting thing about the latest set of Hemingway’s Cuba papers is how conventionally uninteresting they are. “The first batch of papers (donated to the J.F.K. Library in 2009) were what folks may have considered more scholarly—galley proofs of his books, correspondence with his editors, that sort of work,” said Mary-Jo Adams, executive director of the Boston-based Finca Vigía Foundation, the non-profit that has been working with Museum Hemingway at Finca Vigía to preserve his documents and bring copies of them up to the United States. “This group is more personal—it’s less significant, depending on your perspective … copies of his passports, bills that he paid, automobile insurance, his good driver discount—things that put together the fabric of who the man was past his writing.”

Among these papers (many of them written in Spanish), however, is a treasure trove of lists, recipes, and writings that intimately illustrate his appetites and involvement in temporal minutiae. “He was meticulous in all ways, deeply involved in every detail of daily life and very attuned to what kinds of foods he wanted to have served,” says Sandra Spanier, an English professor at Pennsylvania State University and general editor of the Hemingway Letters Project, who has seen the papers.

On avocados: “We like avocados but we don’t want them every day. … When you serve an avocado, do not also serve tomatoes, radishes, or peppers. The avocado is enough for us.”

On the Hemingway cow: “All milk is to be used for the cats.”

A recipe for soup lists abalone, bean curd, smoked turkey, clam broth, onion, and shredded lettuce as ingredients. Instructions for Chinese vegetables have words underlined for emphasis and advise using “poco” soy sauce.

An April, 1957 order to Maison Glass, a gourmet emporium in New York City, requests that tins of whole guinea hen, whole pheasant, cèpes, and lobster bisque along with dozens of jars of preserves such as rose petal jelly and pricey bar le duc be sent to Finca Vigía “by Air Express as you usually do.”

Some of these writings are typed out on Collier’s magazine letterhead and filled in with handwritten corrections and notes, Spanier said. And among them, she added, is a note in Spanish, written by Hemingway, but in the voice of his fourth wife Mary Hemingway, saying, in effect, “Please try to understand these instructions. They’re given knowing your goodwill in working hard to shop and cook well. If there’s something that you don’t understand or some problem, explain it to me and not to Mr. Hemingway, who has enough problems of his own in his work as a writer.”

Hemingway’s appetites naturally took their toll. In his last five years at Finca Vigía, he became preoccupied with his weight and blood pressure, recording both readings everyday in pencil on his bathroom wall. “It did fluctuate,” Adams said. “Sometimes he would write a word (next to a number) indicating there was a party or some reason for the fluctuation.”

Among his papers, the burger that captured my imagination was one of his more pedestrian recipes—it was no vichyssoise or white grape soup. But I needed to taste it.

It started off simply enough: ground beef, India relish, capers, and green onions, mixed with various spices, egg, and wine. (The recipe is very specific about the brand of spices; Spice Islands appeared to be the Hemingway spice brand of choice.)

Mei Yen powder, however, tripped me up. Perhaps it was a popular spice in the 1950s but in 2013, it was nowhere to be found; it turns out it was discontinued three years ago. But after some conferring with the good people at Spice Islands, I had a recipe for recreating that.

And so I began. First, I broke up the meat, scattering the garlic, onion and dry seasonings over it. After letting that rest for a smidgen, I added the relish, capers, wine, and all else and let that “sit, quietly marinating.” The smell of spices, garlic, capers, meat, and wine slowly perfumed the air of my tiny kitchen.

Hemingway liked his burgers pan-fried, not grilled. So, out came the pan. The heady scent of charred beef tinged with sage, garlic, and celery seed rapidly became unbearable. I could not wait to eat. By the time the burger was “crispy brown and the middle pink and juicy” my pangs were palpable.

The burger was delicious: each bit of it oozed a complex and textured umami, earthy and deep. I had never experienced such a combination of flavors in a burger before and found myself eating far too quickly. But then I remembered a line I loved in A Moveable Feast, in which Hemingway describes going to Brasserie Lipp in Paris for a meal.

“The beer was very cold and wonderful to drink. … After the first heavy draft of beer I drank and ate very slowly.”

And so, I did the same. I took a sip of my cool Sancerre and slowly, I ate.

FROM EXPERIMENTING, PAPA’S FAVORITE HAMBURGER.

There is no reason why a fried hamburger has to turn out gray, greasy, paper-thin and tasteless. You can add all sorts of goodies and flavors to the ground beef — minced mushrooms, cocktail sauce, minced garlic and onion, chopped almonds, a big dollop of piccadilli, or whatever your eye lights on. Papa prefers this combination.

Ingredients:

1 lb ground lean beef

2 cloves, minced garlic

2 little green onions, finely chopped

1 heaping teaspoon, India relish

2 tablespoons, capers

1 heaping teaspoon, Spice Islands sage

Spice Islands Beau Monde Seasoning — ½ teaspoon

Spice Islands Mei Yen Powder — ½ teaspoon (see note below)

1 egg, beaten in a cup with a fork

About one third cup dry red or white wine.

1 tablespoon cooking oil

What to do:

Break up the meat with a fork and scatter the garlic, onion and dry seasonings over it, then mix them into the meat with a fork or your fingers. Let the bowl of meat sit out of the icebox for ten or fifteen minutes while you set the table and make the salad. Add the relish, capers, everything else including wine and let the meat sit, quietly marinating, for another ten minutes if possible. Now make four fat, juicy patties with your hands. The patties should be an inch thick, and soft in texture but not runny. Have the oil in your frying-pan hot but not smoking when you drop in the patties and then turn the heat down and fry the burgers about four minutes. Take the pan off the burner and turn the heat high again. Flip the burgers over, put the pan back on the hot fire, then after one minute, turn the heat down again and cook another three minutes. Both sides of the burgers should be crispy brown and the middle pink and juicy.


Note: Spice Islands has discontinued its production of Mei Yen Powder. Here’s how to recreate it:

9 parts salt

9 parts sugar

2 parts MSG

If a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon Mei Yen Powder, use 2/3 tsp of the dry recipe (above) mixed with 1/8 tsp of soy sauce.

Source: The Paris Review

Lotus Seeds: Why They are Good for You and How to Eat Them

Ranjini Rao wrote . . . . . . . . .

Heard of Plant Pops? They’re popped and flavoured lotus seeds, touted as a healthy alternative to popcorn, with less fat, more protein, and fewer calories. It’s probably why they’re a celebrity favourite, too, with actor and producer Priyanka Chopra Jonas, who prefers them as a snack, and Irish chef and food writer, Darina Allen, who says they have an addictive crunchiness.

Indian-born Anushi Desai turned her childhood snack food into a business in the UK, and took home the best snacking innovation award from the World Food Innovation Awards in 2019.

Also known as fox nuts or gorgon nuts, lotus seeds – from the floating water lily plant native to eastern Asia – are widely used in India, China and Japan. As the lily’s seed is harvested in stagnant wetlands, no fertilisers or pesticides are needed, making them naturally organic. They’ve been cultivated in China for more than 3,000 years.

Packed with fibre, calcium and a host of other nutrients, lotus seeds, which have a neutral flavour, may be boiled or roasted to eat as a snack, or ground into flour for use in baking, puddings and candies, or mixed into dishes such as the sticky rice dumpling known as bajang, and in desserts, like the custardy Thai dish khanom mo kaeng. An episode of the new Netflix series Indian Matchmaking even features a nitrogen-injected version.

In India, lotus seeds, known as makhana, have long been a popular spiced and roasted snack. Ruchi Shrivastava, food historian and owner of Mumbai-based food media company Greed Goddess, says if used in the right way, the seeds can offer many benefits, particularly in the fight against lifestyle diseases.

“It can have a calming effect on the body, which helps reduce stress and anxiety, resulting in sound sleep. It’s also gluten-free. It’s such a flexible product, and can be a boon to anyone following a plant-based diet.” A low-carb food, it is also suitable for the keto diet.

Shrivastava calls the seeds “poor man’s cashews” because they are affordable and beneficial to health. “It’s low in sodium and high in potassium, so it reduces blood pressure and is good for diabetics, too. So, instead of adding almond or cashew paste in curries to make them rich, we always use a mix of lotus seeds and poppy seeds.

“As a kid, when I was unwell, my mother used to give me roasted makhana with a dash of ghee and a pinch of salt and black pepper – it would help restore the taste in my palate,” she says.

Lotus seed flour is mixed with whole wheat flour to make bread, for the benefit of the diabetics in her family, Shrivastava says. “We made desserts using makhana flour, too, or we just popped makhana and mixed it into our puddings.”

In the book Ten Lectures on the Use of Medicinals from the Personal Experience of Jiao Shu-de, a traditional Chinese medical (TCM) practitioner describes lotus seeds as “sweet and astringent in flavour and neutral in nature” and says they nourish the heart, fortify the spleen, supplement the kidney, and work as an astringent.

In TCM, an astringent is a substance that is seen as able to prevent the leakage of needed fluids and prevent the loss of vital energy. Astringents also work as a diuretic, to promote secretion of unwanted or excess fluids.

China’s Ministry of Health approved lotus seeds’ use as both food and medicine. A 2016 study by Zhu et al, published in Frontiers in Plant Science, highlights the benefits to be derived from lotus seeds. Previous studies have shown that lotus seeds are rich in flavonoids and alkaloids.

Flavonoids are lauded for their potential in preventing chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases, and various types of cancers. Lotus seed alkaloids have been found to have properties that relieve depression, help manage irregular heartbeat and relieve excess fluid in the lungs.

Lotus seeds have also been described in many Ayurvedic texts, including the ancient Charaka Samhita, as being known to improve vigour and immunity.

Ayurveda is Indian traditional medicine. According to Ayurvedic practitioner Meera Praveen Rao in Bangalore, India, lotus seeds have anti-inflammatory and anti-ageing properties.

“Lotus seeds pacify the bio energies in the body: Pitta, or what we call the fire element, and Kapha (the water element). They are used to treat symptoms caused by excessive heat, like bleeding disorders, increased thirst, burning sensation in the body, boils, dizziness, and to improve blood cell count.”

Rao advises taking lotus seed tea for stomach disorders, such as acidity and heartburn.

Three ways to use lotus seeds

1. Roasted lotus seeds

2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 cups lotus seeds
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Method:

1. Heat the coconut oil in a wide pan.
2. Add the lotus seeds and fry on a low flame for four to five minutes.
3. Add the salt and ground pepper and toss well. Serve warm.

2. Lotus seed tea

4 cups water
1 cup lotus seeds

Method:

1. Pour the water into a big pan, and bring to a boil.
2. Add the lotus seeds and turn off the heat.
3. Let sit for two hours, then strain the seeds out.
4. Add a sweetener such as jaggery powder or coconut sugar if you prefer it sweet, and drink in small doses, to relieve acidity.


3. Lotus seed and vegetable stir fry

1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 cup lotus seeds
2 teaspoons coconut oil
1 carrot, sliced thin and long
1 red bell pepper, sliced thin and long
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced thin and long
1 green bell pepper, sliced thin and long
1 zucchini, sliced thin and long
10 to 12 green beans, sliced thin and long
Salt according to taste
1 teaspoon black pepper powder
1 teaspoon red chilli flakes (optional)
1 teaspoon brown sugar (optional)
½ cup chopped basil
1 medium lemon, juiced

Method:

1. In a large wok, cook the lotus seeds in a tablespoon of coconut oil, then transfer to a plate and set aside.
2. Heat remaining oil in the same pan, add all the vegetables, stir fry on a medium flame for about six to seven minutes (vegetables should remain crisp).
3. Add roasted lotus seeds and seasonings and mix well.

Source: SCMP