by Naini Setalvad
The water chestnut is not just a culinary delight, but has many health benefits, says Naini Setalvad
Years ago in Calcutta, my aunt made a simple but sublime dish of water chestnuts, by simply sauteeing them with a touch of hing and sea salt. As I gorged on it, my love for this vegetable, known as paniphal or singhodha, was born.
We often find it at the vegetable market, or on street corners, sold either in its knobby green raw form, or in its steamed black avatar, where it makes a chic contrast to the ivory-white flesh. In its raw form it is crisp and crunchy, and in its cooked form, rather dense and starchy, with a mild nutty flavour.
It is a native to South East Asia and India, and grows in marshes. The knobby vegetable with papery brown skin is a staple in Chinese cooking, where it is often combined with bamboo shoots, ginger, and snow peas. The water chestnut is actually not a nut at all, but an aquatic vegetable. The name “water chestnut” comes from the fact that it resembles a chestnut in shape and colouring.
Water chestnuts are relished most commonly in their raw form, peeled, but can also be steamed or even sautéd.
Dried water chestnuts can be powdered into flour. The Chinese use them to make water chestnut cakes, which is common as part of dim sum cuisine, while in India they are often used to make rotis during fasts, when consumption of grains is forbidden.
Quite apart from its culinary feats, the water chestnut has many health benefits.
It is a great cure for urinary infections Drinking a cup of sweet water chestnut soup can terminate the pain.
The juice of water chestnut can also bring relief to nausea or a feeling of indigestion. Water chestnuts are recommended for those battling jaundice as they are zero in fat and help nausea.
Due to its detoxifying properties and high water base, it is a cleansing food. It is also a good source of energy, and small quantities will keep you satisfied due to its high fibre content.
It has a high potassium content and helps prevent water retention as well as keeps blood pressure low. It is low in sodium, and fat is virtually non-existent.
The calcium content is also significant, therefore it would be great to include regularly.
Water chestnuts have only moderate amounts of antioxidants. They are also extremely laxative in nature.
If not eaten in moderation, water chestnuts could lead to stomach gas problems and bloating.
Buy water chestnuts which are firm and with unwrinkled skin, especially when raw. Avoid ones which are soft.
Water chestnuts can be stored in the refrigerator for few days.
Water chestnut and pomegranate salad
– 10 minutes
100 gm pomegranate
250 gm green water chestnut
1/4 tsp hing (asafoetida)
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
o Shell the water chestnuts. Cut in two halves.
o Take extra virgin olive oil in a kadai (wok) and heat it.
o Add hing and chopped water chestnuts to the kadai (wok).
o Sauté for 3-4 minutes.
o Add pistachios and salt.
o Remove from flame and add pomegranate
o Chill and serve
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