JNestled in the northernmost region of India, the towering mountains of Kashmir have enveloped a rich centuries-old heritage, which is expressed through intricate art, architecture and poetry. But in this land of artists, dreamers, emperors and poets, there is so much more to explore and that journey often begins with a fragrant cup of Kahwa (Kashmir green tea) and a table full of royal Wazwan (a multi-course Kashmiri meal consisting of meat, rice and vegetables).
Kashmiri cuisine continues to be a much underexplored culinary reserve and is generally known for its abundance of meat dishes. But few people outside the region know that the priceless gem of Kashmiri cuisine is not another rich and complex protein-based concoction, but the humble Nadrouor lotus stalk – also known as lotus root – indigenously grown across its scenic lakes.
A porous, fibrous lake vegetable that was once commonly available, Nadrou has become an irreplaceable ingredient in traditional Kashmiri cuisine. From regular consumption to festivals, Nadrou earthy and fibrous texture has allowed it to be very versatile. To be cooked with green beans in dal, or fried in light and crispy street food called nadir monjethe Kashmiri lotus stalk, has over the decades become representative of the region, so much so that it has the power to replace the usually superior lamb in traditional yoghurt and a cumin-based dish called yakhni. Known as nadru yakhni, this dish is specially cooked during Nowruz, the Iranian New Year which is popularly celebrated in the Kashmir valley.
A vegetable as good as meat
by Nadru discovery as a culinary gem dates back to the 15th century during the reign of the eighth Sultan of Kashmir, Ghiyas-ud-Din Zain-ul-Abidin. According to local tales, while riding a shikara on Gil Sar Lake outside Srinagar, the emperor was first introduced to the glow of a lotus plant. Harvested locally by his boatmen, the emperor was served a special evening meal with lotus stems or Nadru.
Already captivated by the beauty of lotus flowers, Zain-ul-Abidin was shocked to know that the tasty and moist dish was made from lotus stem. Captivated by the striking beauty of the plant’s flower and the subtle and sophisticated taste of its stem, he decided to introduce the lotus to all the lakes of Kashmir, thus making it a delicacy accessible to all.
Additionally, the chefs who migrated from the city of Samarkand in Uzbekistan to the valley during the 15th century invasion by Timur, a Turko-Mongol conqueror, used their spices and skills to enhance the brilliance of the ingredient like no other. Soon, from royal kitchens to ordinary households, Nadru began dominating the cuisines of Kashmir with its steamed, boiled, fried and spiced dishes.
Due to its versatility, this food has become a symbol of Kashmir. It is said to be eaten by both Muslims and Pundits, especially during fasts. Its porous texture allows it to fully absorb all the rich spices and is an impressive alternative to mutton or beef while making kebabs, curries and yakhni. According to many in the region, it is a vegetable as good as meat!
A medicinal bounty
Beyond being a culinary gem, a lotus stem or Nadrou has several medicinal properties that considerably elevate its gastronomic importance.
Low in saturated fat and cholesterol, it is also a rich source of dietary fibre, nutrients and minerals like vitamin C, vitamin B, vitamin E, potassium, thiamin, phosphorus, iron, copper, manganese and pantothenic acid. Known for being a fat-free vegetable, it’s packed with phytonutrients that help boost the immune system and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. With good vasodilating properties, Nadrou It is also said to improve blood circulation and help manage blood pressure. And with vitamin B complex and pyridoxine, Nadrou is known to help significantly reduce stress. The pyridoxine present in the lotus stem also helps improve overall heart health.
Plus, the abundance of fiber helps prevent constipation and aids the digestion process. Eating it once or twice a week, for people with intestinal problems, is often considered beneficial.
A seemingly simple vegetable grown locally not only in Jammu and Kashmir but in several parts of India and beyond, the lotus stem has proven to be a wonder both in terms of taste and health. But in this region which has survived several natural and man-made hardships, Nadrou continues to be savored as a bite of love and comfort.
Recipe: Nadrou Yakhni
Lotus stem – 1 cup
Curd – 2 cups
Dry ginger powder – 1 tsp
carom seeds (Ajowan)- 2 teaspoons
Fennel seeds (Except), powder – 1 tsp
Garam masala powder – 1 tsp
Black cardamom (Badi Elaichi)- 2
Cardamom (Elaichi)- 2
Cloves (Laung)- 2
The cinnamon stick (Cinnamon)- 1 inch
Bay leaf (Tej Patta)- 1
Gram flour (Besan)- 1 tablespoon
Asafoetida (Hing)- 1/4 teaspoon
Ghee – 3 to 4 tablespoons
Salt, to taste
Peel the skin from the lotus stems and cut them into thin strips. Rinse well with water and cook in a saucepan until tender. Be careful not to overcook or mash them. It should be cooked enough to hold its shape.
Whisk the curds, water and besan in a thick paste.
Heat 3 tablespoons of ghee in the pan and add the cumin seeds to splash.
Pour in the curd and besan paste and bring to a boil over low heat for about 10 minutes.
Add the cooked lotus stem and powdered masalas. Continue cooking over low heat for 5 minutes.
Take another pan and melt the ghee. Add the cumin seeds and let them splash for a few seconds before adding the cinnamon, cloves, bay leaf and cardamom. Fry until aroma is released and sprinkle with asafoetida. Turn off the flame.
Pour this tadka into the curd-besan sauce and mix well. Immediately extinguish the flame.
Nadrou yakhni is ready and can be garnished with a sprinkle of dried mint before serving with naan.
(Editing by Yoshita Rao)
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