How many ways can you cook lotus stem? Ask a Kashmiri
Lotus stem is the potato of Kashmiri cuisine. It pairs well with mutton, fish and a host of leafy greens and vegetables
A cousin of mine has standing orders for her vegetable vendor: to get her 2.5kg of lotus stem (also called lotus root) every Friday. The evening I called her, she had made nadur churma (deep-fried lotus stem) as a side dish for lunch, and nadurchaman (lotus stem with paneer) was being prepared for dinner. What does the vegetable vendor think? “He’s happy, and throws in a few thin lotus-stem sticks free.”
Kashmiris have a thing for lotus stem. Called nadur, it’s something they can never have enough of: like potatoes, if you have it at home, it will show up in most dishes.
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The fibre-rich vegetable, called bhein or kamalkakdi in Hindi, can be cooked in endless ways: on its own, in combination with various vegetables, leafy greens, and also fish and mutton. In fact, fish and nadur (gaad nadur) is a much relished dish. Among Kashmiri Pandits, it features in the Shivratri feast in some homes, along with nadur yakhni (yogurt-based curry flavoured with dried, crushed mint) and nadur palak (lotus stem and spinach).
The staples in winter are cooking it with turnip (gogji nadur), knol khol (monje nadur) and haakh (collard greens). These three basic dishes follow the same recipe, use no spices, only red/green chillies and asafoetida (hing) for flavouring (Kashmiri Muslims prefer adding red chilli powder, and use garlic or vaer, an aromatic spice mix, instead of hing). The crunchiness of the lotus stem complements the butteriness of the vegetables. Another everyday Kashmir Pandit dish is nadur olu (lotus stem with potatoes), where the dominant flavours are of fennel and ginger powders, with yogurt lending it a touch of tanginess.
Delhi-based Anita Tikoo, who blogs about food matters at A Mad Tea Party (@a_madteaparty on Instagram) and conducts food workshops on weekends, says her favourite way to cook it is with radish (muej nadur), “with a potato thrown in for good measure”. Her final flourish to the dish is adding vaer. “I love this sour-spicy preparation,” says Tikoo, a landscape architect by profession.
Since it’s the part of the plant which is submerged, the lotus stem needs to be cleaned thoroughly for grit or mud. When cut open, the cross-section reveals holes running through the length of the stem, giving the vegetable a unique appearance. In Kashmir, it is usually sold in bundles (gyaed) and the individual stems, which can be up to a foot or more in length, are called koot. In fact, if someone says “yi chu nadur koot hu”, it means the person is tall and lanky like a lotus stem.
Srinagar-based Zaitoon Ayub, who designs and sells garments with Kashmiri embroidery, buys one gyaed (around 3.5kg) in a week. Her family’s favourite—cooked by her—is lotus stem with turnips and mutton. This dish is flavoured with vaer and praan (deep-fried shallots pounded into a paste)—Kashmiri Pandit cuisine does not use the latter. Ayub also likes making fish, radish, haakh and nadur, all together.
Feasting and fasting
Amsterdam-based Areena Munshi, who takes online abacus classes for children aged 5-10, says she buys lotus stem from Chinese or Korean stores. These are much bigger in size and harder, so they take longer to cook—they also have less hairs/threads. Munshi says it’s not possible to replicate all dishes with this variety of lotus stem. But on Shivratri, a major festival for Kashmiri Pandits, she makes it the traditional way with fish, and knol khol. There’s also yakhni and tschok nadur, a tangy tamarind-based lotus-stem preparation.
My cousin, who lives in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, says that some households had the ritual of making tripes, turnip and lotus stem together on Shivratri. She now substitutes the tripe with mutton (on bone).
If there’s feasting, there’s fasting too. Pamela Anand observes a fast on Sahiban Satam (dedicated to goddess Roop Bhawani). It was on 3 February this year and she made mung beans (green moong dal) with lotus stem. The dal is tempered with hot mustard oil, giving it a smoky flavour. Anand recalls that several years ago, Sahiban Satam fell when she was on holiday in Paris. She was wondering what to do when she spotted Chinese lotus stem and knol khol in a supermarket. “I bought them and made monje-nadur in our rented apartment,” says Anand, who runs a fashion jewellery export company with her husband.
In Gurugram, Haryana, where she lives, she buys it from a shop in Sector 43, “where other Kashmiris also go”. In winter, she likes making lotus stem with meat, and knol khol, which she grows in her kitchen garden.
Choosing the ‘nadur’
Buy ones which are closed at both ends, as this ensures they are clean inside. The stems should be creamy to light brown in colour, stout and firm to touch. Remove any dirt with a matchstick and peel/scrape the skin. When you break it, there should be a sharp snapping sound. Leave them al dente and preferably sauté before cooking—the process lends it a nutty aroma. If the nadur is stringy, some people prefer to use it to make nadur churma, nadur monjee or nadur moend.
Nadur monjee is a popular street-side snack. The lotus stem is cut into thin long strips, half fried, slightly pounded, tossed in rice-flour batter and deep fried—it’s crispy, chewy and an oil guzzler. The home version is nadur churma. The lotus stem is deep-fried and sprinkled with salt and red chilli powder—comfort food is rice, haakh, nadur churma and yogurt. Nadur moend is the hash brown version. Roughly pounded or grated lotus stem is mixed with fresh ginger, rice flour, shaped into patties and pan- or deep-fried.
Then there is nadur choet. Ayub says the lotus stem is pounded into a mince and cooked with a little oil on a griddle with green chillies or red chilli powder. Some people add mutton keema (mince) to this or break a few eggs over it. "It's the tastiest dish you will have, it's like a chutney," she says.
What if you have a mix of slender and robust lotus stems? Tikoo says both are equally good: use small ones in dishes like nadru-palak and the large ones in yakhni. Tikoo gives us the traditional recipe of lotus stem with turnip (gogji nadur).
6-inch long lotus stem
2-3 green chillies, broken into two
2 whole dried red chilies
2-3 tbsp mustard oil
A pinch of asafoetida (hing)
Salt to taste
Scrape and rinse the lotus stem. Slice 4-5mm thick on the bias. Rinse the turnips. Top and tail them and peel off any visible roots. Cut into half, and slice each half into rough, uneven slices, 2-6mm thick. Break the red chillies into halves or keep them whole for milder flavour.
In a heavy-bottom pan, heat mustard oil to smoking point. Lower the heat. Add hing and give it a few seconds to become fragrant. Add the vegetables. Sauté on medium heat till they start to colour at the edges, about 2-3 minutes. Do not brown. Add salt and half a cup of water. When the water starts to simmer, add the red chillies. Cover and cook till the turnips are tender and the nadur still holds its shape. Check every now and then to ensure there is always some liquid in the pan. Add more water if needed. The finished dish should have enough broth to keep the vegetables half-submerged. Add green chillies before taking off the fire. Alternatively, cook in the pressure cooker for one whistle.
Serve with plain steamed rice and yogurt.