Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Lingde, Khutde, Dhekia xaak, Neuro or Fiddlehead ferns, whatever you call them, they are delicious!

An Assamese dish of fiddle head ferns cooked with Kala chana that Gitika Saikia made at the Haan Miholi pop up she did recently reminded me of this post I had been meaning to do.

I love Fiddlehead ferns known variously as Lingde or Khutde and it would be remiss of me not to give them their due devotion here. If you've tasted them, you will understand why. And just how excited I was to get my hands on Fiddlehead Ferns this season (thanks to Gitika again). Wondering what all the fuss is about? That is pretty hard to communicate without making you taste them. But the season is ongoing and there is a good chance you will find them if you go looking in hilly / mountain regions of India. So here is everything you need to know on Fiddleheads, just in case! (Thank me later!)

I learned about Fiddlehead ferns in the first year of being married. I was in Dehra Dun for a holiday. Nanu Chachaji, Shekhar's uncle, had decided to teach me to drive. Truth be told, I never did learn to drive but I DID fall in love with Lingure aka Fiddlehead Ferns! Chahachaji loves them, and every second day he'd make me drive around to a handful of subziwallas he had identified that sold them in season. It had been years since I'd been to Doon in season, so I hadn't eaten them in forever. Until Gitika got me some from a recent visit home to Assam (Along with a few other goodies like teasel gourds and pumkin from her garden!) But I'll stick to the Ferns for now. 

Fiddlehead ferns are the young shoots of edible ferns. Literally nano ferns before they become ferns. Tightly rolled up teeny baby ferns that spring up out of stubs of older plants by riversides and swampy areas, a few weeks after the first monsoon rains. Their compressed spirals (resembling the spiral end of a fiddle, hence the name) emerge, uncurling, stretching for the sun and grabbing for fresh air with all their tiny leafy frondy and tendrilly might. (Almost as though they want to make the most of the moment!) Left on the plant, each Fiddlehead would unfurl into a new frond. 

But they don't thanks to us Fiddlehead crazy foodies! Because boy, are they are popular! Known variously as Lingra, lingri, ningro, Lingure, Khutde, Fiddlehead Ferns are found all over the Indian Himalayas, Nepal, Bhutan and many other parts of the world. Availalble from Kashmir in the North to Assam in the North East. In Kashmir, they are called Kasrod and are popular in Dogra cuisine, pickled into a much loved Kasrod ka achaar. They are also eaten as a leafy vegetable with rotis or parathas. Himachali cuisine calls them Lingri and makes a lingri achaar. In Sikkim, they are called Niyuro and sometimes sauteed with chhurpi, the local cheese and also pickled. In the Kangra Valley they are called Lungdu. In Assam, they are called  
Dhekia xaak and cooked simply as a vegetable side dish or cooked with Pork and as I recently found out with Kala Chana.

And Fiddleheads are popular all over the world! Further out in Nepal, they are called Neuro (meaning 'bent,' 'curled' - neehureko, jhukeko). They have been eaten in Northern France since the start of the Middle Ages, are also savoured across Asia, among Native Americans, in the Hawain Islands and in the Russian Far East. Typically, Fiddleheads are steamed, sauteed, boiled and served with butter and or lemon, in egg dishes, with Hollandaise, or in combination with morel mushrooms. They are also pickled.

As green as they look, they are not like other greens, so I would not advise you eat Fiddleheads raw! Their habitat, makes them prone to carrying food-borne illnesses. So when you get them, wash them really well, rinsing of any grit stuck inside the heads. Be careful. And use as soon as you can once harvested. They are delicate, with a short shelf life and lose flavour and texture within days. I would not bother storing, freezing etc, it compromises the flavour. Though I have to admit I have never had enough to try pickling them so I cannot comment on that method of  storing them, currently.

Historically, Garhwali cuisine, has had a strong relaince on foraged foods and wild plants play a large part in fortifying the simple Garhwali diet. Fiddleheads, typically foraged from riversides would often supplement meals. Rich in omega-3, omega-6 essential fatty acids as well as iron, potassium and other minerals and vitamins its understandable why they came to be valued as food, but their earthy flavours is what makes them loved by those who have discovered them! During the Monsoon, women often harvest the tightly coiled fronds, for personal consumption, or to sell. Usually  harvested early in the season before the frond has opened and reached its full height, the ferns are cut fairly close to the ground and the entire stem and head is eaten. Fiddleheads have an addictive green, earthy flavour, with a nutty mushroom-y undertone and a tang of iron and pair beautifully with potatoes, into a subzi, which is how we eat them.

In Garhwali cuisine we stir-fry Ligure in Mustard oil, tempered with Jakhiya garlic and dry red chillies. Potatoes are often added and taste amazing cooked with the Lingure. (Come to think of it, potatoes, pork, mushrooms, eggs, fiddleheads marry with the best foods!) Here is the recipe and here is a link to a video of the Lingure ki Subzi recipe.

Lingure ki Sabzi 
2 tbsp Mustard Oil 
1 tsp jakhiya
4-5 dry red chillies
8-10 cloves garlic, sliced 
2 large potatoes, peeled and diced 
500 gms Lingure /Fiddlehead fern, cleaned and chopped

Heat the oil in an iron kadhai. 
When hot, add the jakhiya and let it splutter. 
Add the chillies and garlic and saute until garlic is golden. 
Add the potatoes and stirfry till 9o% cooked. (When pressed they should break easily) 
Add the Lingure and stirfry, first the vegetable will let of its water. Then the water will simmer away and the vegetable will be reduced and get a oily sheen. 
Transfer to a Serving bowl. 
Eat warm with rotis or Arhar Dal, and rice 

Interesting links! 
The Fiddlehead Gitika gets from Assam are different from the ones I have eaten in Dehra Dun. The Assamese ones look more like these (https://rubberslippersinitaly.wordpress.com/2006/05/31/hoio-hawaiis-edible-fern/) The ones we eat in Dehra Dun look more like these 

Here is a lovely post by Rekha Kakkar on Dogri Kasrod Achaar. https://mytastycurry.com/recipe-of-kasrod-ka-achaar-from-dogri-cuisine

A great post on foraging for Fiddleheads with some instructive infographics. http://www.foodandwine.com/fwx/food/foraging-beginners

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