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The water chestnut is actually not a nut at all, but an aquatic vegetable that grows in marshes. The name "water chestnut" comes from the fact that it resembles a chestnut in shape and colouring. Indigenous to Southeast Asia, it has been cultivated in India and China since ancient times. Sometimes called Singhara nut in India, the floating leaves are about 5 to 8 cm long and have hairy petioles 10 to 15 cm in length.
The fruit is about 2 cm in diameter. Fresh water chestnuts are available year-round in Asian markets, either packaged or in bins. Unless you live in an area where they are grown locally, they are generally not available in local groceries and supermarkets. Canned water chestnuts are available year round at most groceries and supermarkets.
Cut the water chestnut in pieces. Blanching can be done by boiling or steaming. Put the water chestnut in a wire basket, submerge them completely in the boiling water, cover with a lid, and blanch for 3-4 minutes. To blanch by steaming, put them in a steamer basket and suspend it above an inch or two of boiling water. Cover the pot, and begin timing (3-4 minutes) as soon as steam starts to escape from under the lid. With either method, shake the basket a couple of times to ensure that all surfaces are exposed to the heat. After the allotted time, remove the basket, and plunge the chestnuts into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Once cool, remove them, drain thoroughly and add to your recipe.
Water chestnuts should be washed thoroughly to get rid of any traces of dirt. Remove soft or brown patches and discard any damaged or fermented water chestnuts. A pair of very sharp knife makes peeling water chestnuts easy. Immerse them in boiling water and boil for 10-15 minutes to get boiled water chestnuts. Boiling water chestnuts in water makes the best drink for measles patient.
They should be washed very well since the leaves and stems tend to collect sand and soil. Before washing, trim off the roots and separate the leaves. Put the washed chest nuts on a chopping board and chop them in small 1-2 inch sized pieces. They can be halved, sliced, diced or even cut into julienne strips.
How to select
Par boiled waterchestnut
Water chestnuts can be used whole, halved, sliced, diced, cut into julienne strips, or puréed before par boiling them. Parboiling is a cooking technique in which water chestnuts are partially cooked in boiling water, but removed before it is cooked all the way through. Many recipes call for parboiled water chestnuts as they longer to cook. Parboiling them in advances ensures that they get completely cooked in the final dish.
When choosing fresh water chestnuts, look for firm ones with an unwrinkled skin and no soft spots - otherwise when you peel the water chestnut you may find it has softened and turned mushy. Generally, it's best to buy a few more chestnuts than needed, just in case a few have spoiled.Culinary uses
· Fresh water chestnuts need to be peeled and the top cut off before using. Before using canned water chestnuts, rinse them under warm running water to remove any "tinny" taste.
· Water chestnuts are frequently added to stir-fries, stuffing, and dumpling fillings for extra texture and a sweet flavour
· When steamed, the outside covering becomes blackened and it tastes starchy, sort of like a potato.How to store
Unpeeled, fresh water chestnuts will keep for up to two weeks in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Prior to cooking, you'll need to cut off the top and peel the skin. If you want to peel them ahead of time, that's fine, but be sure to store them in cold water in the refrigerator, with the water changed daily. Store canned water chestnuts in a cool dry place and use within a year. Once opened, store the water chestnuts in a sealed container in the refrigerator and use within three days.Health Benefits
· Nutritionally, water chestnuts are a good source of potassium and fiber.
· They are low in sodium, and fat is virtually non-existent.
· Calorie wise, one cup of water chestnut slices contains about one hundred-thirty calories. Low carb dieters, beware: water chestnuts are high in carbohydrates.
· Chinese herbalists believe water chestnuts can help sweeten the breath.