plant tops of water chestnuts

There are several species of water chestnuts, which aren’t of course actual nuts .They are the tuberous roots of an aquatic plant. The Chinese water chestnut, as it‘s called, is a relative of sedge, while the European water chestnuts are related to the Evening Primrose family. The Chinese water chestnut, whose Latin name is Eleocharis dulcis, originated in South and Southeast Asia. It grows on the Indian subcontinent although is not much used in Pakistani cuisine, as it is seasonal, coming into season with the monsoon. This is a wonderful natural ‘coincidence’ as it has cooling properties, and its juice can reduce the body’s temperature. The European water chestnuts are Trapa natans, and in the trepans family are also bicornia (two horns) and bispinosa (two spines). These names refer to the point on the outer casing of the water chestnut. They grow in fresh water, including in slow-moving rivers and streams.

If you’ve only eaten water chestnuts that come from a can you will not know why they are called chestnuts at all. However, if you ever get the opportunity to try a freshly boiled or steamed water chestnut, you will recognize the chestnuty taste. The fresh ones are really delicious, but you shouldn’t eat too many of these delightful vegetables as they have a mild laxative effect.

In Asia the water chestnut is used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of illnesses. They are rich in carbohydrates and also minerals, containing as they do, potassium, zinc, iron and calcium. They also contain fibre and some B-complex vitamins. If you are concerned about your diet then these are perfect; they are fat and cholesterol free and do not contain gluten. As they aren’t really nuts, people with a nut allergy can eat them without worrying about their side effects.

They can be powdered so that people can make roti (chapattis) with them if they have a problem with grains and gluten. Traditionally they are still used to prevent coughs during the monsoon season, and they are taken in powder form for this. If you have cystitis or any other painful urinary tract infection, a cup of water chestnut soup can relieve the symptoms. The juice from a water chestnut is used to cure indigestion and nausea and the water from boiled chestnuts plus a few liquidized ones is often given to children with measles to help them feel better. They also have detoxifying properties, so are very good for one’s health. They’re also extremely tasty.

The European water chestnut Trapa natans is now considered an invasive species in the US. It was imported in the late 1800s as an ornamental plant (this variety looks like a water lily) and is now threatening to take over from native species. On the other hand, Eleocharis dulcis is now an endangered species in Fiji, where the grass-like plants were woven into mats. However it seems to be alive and well on the Indian subcontinent.

250 gr water chestnuts boiled, peeled and sliced
200 gr mange touts or snow peas
1 onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 inch piece of ginger root, finely chopped
150 gr bamboo shoots, sliced
100 gr baby sweet corn
1 star anise
3 tbsp soy sauce
freshly ground black pepper
a few sliced green chillies or 1 tsp red chilli powder


Fry the onion until soft along with the garlic, ginger and green chillies, if using.

Mix in the rest of the vegetables and the soy sauce and star anise. Fry over a low heat for about 10 mins. If you want to you can add half a glass of white wine. You probably won’t need salt because of the contents of the soy sauce, but taste and add if you wish.

Serve with noodles, rice noodles or jasmine rice.

This has Taste and is a Treat.

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