Living the Good Life…

My food blog & cookbook in progress

Lotus root

Kamal kakdi, bhen, taamarya tandu (or taamara karyangu).. these are some other names for this vegetable in different parts of India. Oh, and there one more label – kashakara vendakai – coined by my brother and myself when we were very little kids to describe the chips that were often served to us at our grandmothers’ homes as a side to that south Indian staple, rasam chadam. Our name for it literally means “bitter okra” which may not sound too appetizing, but my brother and I used to very happily devour these crunchy black bits of salty bitterness whenever they were served, and even ask for more. Now, the vegetable in the picture may bear no resemblance to okra (which is star-shaped, not smoothly oval, in cross section and green, not whitish, in color) but description seemed to have struck a chord, for even now everyone in the extended family hails these chips by the same name.

Aside from these chips and as one of ingredients in a mixed vegetable pickle (pachranga) typical of Patiala, I didn’t know much about the use of lotus roots in any sort of cuisine. How much of a gap in my gustatory education this was, I only learned when I finally did encounter the raw roots at a Chinese grocery store in New Haven one day. Actually they are not the most inspiring sight, indeed they are even intimidating to the uninitiated, but having read about them,** I could not resist buying some to experiment with. By then home was no longer on Livingstone Street but downstairs from Helena and Mark (& Kirin – who at not-quite-four was the youngest enthusiast of what she called Neeraja-food – and Anand) on Nicoll street, but the kitchen lab was still functional.

A good preliminary step before using the lotus roots in recipes is to lightly boil them first (they are more manageable if you break them into pieces at the nodal points) and peel the outermost layer off before slicing them crosswise. Here are a couple of interesting recipes:

Tava fry

Season slices of lotus root with a mixture of salt, turmeric and sundry spices (a mixture of ground cumin and coriander and cayenne pepper for example) and then pan-fry in oil (as you would potatoes) till they acquire a crunchy outer coating. Serve as an interesting starch alternative.

Lotus root with greens

Heat some oil (the pungent mustard oil is great in this recipe) with a pinch of asafoetida and toss slices of prepped lotus roots that have been seasoned with salt and turmeric (and cayenne/hot pepper if desired) for a few minutes. Set veges aside and to the same pan add a few tablespoons of thick yogurt and some more seasonings, stirring vigorously until the water begins to evaporate from the curds. Toss the roots back in and mix and then add several handfuls of chopped greens such as collard greens or spinach (I prefer the former for this as they are sturdier and tend to hold their texture better). Continue to stir fry until the greens are wilted and serve as a side dish in a meal with rajmah or rogan josh with rice.

** Lotus roots are yet another culinary debt that I owe to Madhur Jaffery, although unlike the mustard shrimp, there was no recipe to lift or adapt. Just a mention that the Kashmiris used lotus roots in combination with greens. I also saw references to them in one of Adam’s Indian cookbook (by Julie Sahni). But these references intrigued me enough to try them for myself first chance I got.


  Lotuses in London « Peregrine chronicles wrote @

[…] the star dinner items last night. Now I’ve included them in my other blog (labeled simply as lotus root in the born of the water section) but never had them like this. Thinly sliced and gently sautéed […]

  Inshah Malik wrote @

In kashmir, they are called na’der and are cooking with mutton or spinach or collard greens. They are one of our staple foods, also used too much in Manipuri food.

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