April 28th, 2010

Water chestnuts

Here’s another entry in my effort to popularize neglected but fabulous vegetables (see this for my paean to parsnips).

Today, gang, it’s water chestnuts. No, not those ubiquitous ones that come in cans. They are but a bland and pale reflection of the fabulous glory of the fresh water chestnut.

To get the fresh ones you must have access to a Chinese grocery store. They are a bit labor intensive to prepare because they have to be peeled—and some are always a bit mushy and have to be discarded.

But those are small quibbles, as you will see when you taste them. Peel, slice, and then use them in almost any stir-fry recipe. They are crunchy and incredibly sweet, kind of like a wonderful apple that has been transformed into a vegetable that does not get mushy when cooked.

17 Responses to “Water chestnuts”

  1. expat Says:

    I’ve never seen a fresh water chestnut. I doubt that I will here in Germany, but did you see this latest gourmet treasure reported in the NYT?


    Check it out for us and let us know whether the NYT is as trustworthy in the food dept as it is in politics.

  2. Sergey Says:

    In times of hunger, these vegetables were in Russia not a gourmet treasure, but life savers. They were called a “second bread”: roasted in ovens, they were grinded to flour, and bread baked from it.

  3. neo-neocon Says:

    Sergey: I believe you may be referring to chestnuts. Water chestnuts are very different.

    If you follow the link in the article you will find this quote:

    Water chestnuts require a long frost-free growing season (7 months) which means that they are only grown in semi-tropical areas, including a few States such as California and Florida.

  4. Sergey Says:

    No, water chestnuts are very common in Russia, actually they occupy every pond or small river. They are also known as “Devil’s nut” because they have pointed horns, are black, and one can easily imagine a devil’s head in it. My friend, a botanist, wrote a dissertation about this plant: their morphology is very diverse, so some taxanomist invent as many as several dozen species of it. But my friend proved that all mrphological variants are mutually fertile, so all they belong to the same species. I discussed this issue in my own thesis on speciation as a prove the morphology alone, without genetic analysis, is not a valid basis for taxonomy.

  5. Sergey Says:

    Probably, Chinese selection variants (they were cultivated in China for 5 thousand years!) do require long vegetation period, but Russian wild species obviously don’t.

  6. Nolanimrod Says:

    This proves that, with a reliable following, you can get comments on anything.

  7. neo-neocon Says:

    Sergey: that’s interesting. I wonder whether the Russian variety taste similar to the Chinese.

  8. Tatyana Says:

    Never heard of them.

  9. anna Says:

    hi, this is really off topic here, but has anyone paid attention to what the frig is going on in thailand? there hasn’t been much said about it in the parts of the blogosphere that I frequent – which is unfortunate because those of us overworked evil private sector employees rely on blogs to get most of our accurate news from, I know that sounds backwards but it’s true.

    I did find this -> http://www.eurasiareview.com/2010/04/whats-happening-in-thailand-american.html

    sounds like the socialists vs the military… er, or not I guess.

  10. dilys Says:

    Back to cuisine….For those who already love fresh water chestnuts, when you can’t make it to the Chinese market, finely chopped peeled jicama is right up there, almost identical. Mix either with smoked salmon with onion and cream cheese. Ooooooohhhhh…. or in any kind of meat or potato salad.

  11. rickl Says:

    I’m pretty cooking-challenged, but I recently learned to make a decent chicken & broccoli stir-fry. Water chestnuts sound like they might be worth trying.

    The “labor intensive” part is a bit of a turn-off, though.

  12. Sergey Says:

    I never tasted them, too. But I know that boatloads of them were transported from Astrakhan in Volga delta to Nizhnij Novgorod and sold here at wholesale agricultural market in 19 century. Later they became rare due to overexploitation, as many other natural riches.

  13. Tatyana Says:

    is jicama crunchy and white? I think I know it; it was in a salad with fennel (anise root) and lemon juice I ate once in a small vegetarian fusion restaurant on Upper East Side. That was excellent! But since I couldn’t remember the name.

    Thanks, I’ll try to look for it now.

  14. Charles Says:

    Neo; Yes, they are wonderful. I had them all the time when I lived in Southeast Asia – they are especially good in springrolls (what we call eggrolls here in the US) stuffed with chicken, mushrooms, and (of course) water chestnuts, then deepfried. Delicious!

    Anna; it’s not just the blogsphere that is silent. The mainstream news media isn’t mentioning much about what is happening in Thailand either (I guess because it has nothing to do with Obama!?)

  15. IgotBupkis Says:

    My mother always made a great party hors d’oeuvre called “Rumaki” — you’ll note that it’s like chop suey, “faux oriental” — IIRC, her recipe didn’t use duck or chicken but just somehow wrapped the WC in bacon and soaked it in marinade.

    Feel free to hunt up your own recipes and experiment. If you want to introduce people to WCs, it’s a particularly good way to do so.

  16. Ben-David Says:

    The horned nuts that grow in Russia are sedge nuts.
    Different species.

  17. ttrojian Says:


    I’m looking for a US grower of water chestnuts for a television series. The size is of the producer is unimportant and they can sell mainly at local markets even.

    Any contact info would be appreciated.



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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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