Fiddleheads: Himalayan Style

 

For my first recipe post I want to offer a seasonal recipe using fiddleheads, a vegetable which has been instrumental in shaping what I view as local and seasonal food.  Ten years ago I participated in a Canadian Food promotion in Tokyo. While visiting the famous Tsukiji fish market I explored the nearby vegetable stalls and much to my surprise saw in-season fiddleheads.  The host Japanese chefs were shocked to learn that this, a Japanese vegetable to them, was also Canadian.  We incorporated them into an asparagus, fiddlehead, morel and wild rice pilaf. 

Six years later while driving the winding roads away from the Himalayan village of McLeod Ganj, headquarters of the Dalai Lama, I again caught a glimpse of this familiar spring vegetable being sold along the roadside. Wanting to make sure I wasn’t suffering from altitude sickness, I recall asking my wife for reassurance that I had just seen a bunch of fiddleheads. Soon I was chatting with the vendor trying to explain in broken Hindi that we had the same seasonal delicacy in Canada.

These experiences, seeing the familiar in a foreign context, provided me with both comfort and intrigue. My definition of “local” and “seasonal” food began to shift and now I constantly find myself searching for more ‘local’ food as I travel.

In rural communitites, where vegetable cultivation is scarcely practiced, villagers often rely on nutritious wild vegetables. Such as fiddleheads which are high in omega-3, omega-6 essential fatty acids and rich in iron, potassium andother minerals and vitamins. From Shimla to Sikkim fiddlehead ferns, known as lingra, lingri or ningro, can be found in the remote forests of the Himalayas.  During the Monsoon, women often harvest the tightly coiled fronds, for personal consumption, or to sell along the roadside. Often, the fiddleheads are simply boiled and eaten on their own.  In Himachal pickled fiddleheads, lingri achaar, are a local delicacy while in Sikkim, they may be sautéed with chhurpi, a local cheese.  I have added some new potatoes to a recipe shared with me by the roadside vendor along the route to McLeod Ganj. The fiddleheads pictured below are sourced from the nearby Gatineau hills.

 Sauteed Fiddlehead Ferns with New Potatoes

Serves 4 

 3 cups or ½ lb fiddlehead ferns* (or substitute asparagus, okra or green beans)

8 to 10 new potatoes

2 tablespoons mustard or vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds, lightly crushed

¼ teaspoon turmeric

2 dried red chiles, cut in half (or good pinch of cayenne powder)

salt, to taste

fresh coriander for garnish

Trim cut end of fiddleheads. Place fiddleheads in a large bowl with a lot of water and gently shake to remove any dirt or grit. Drain and repeat again. Drain the fiddleheads and set aside.

Place  new potatoes in a pot of water and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for about 10-15 minutes or until potatoes are just cooked.  Use a slotted spoon to remove potatoes to a plate to let cool. Cut into halves or quarters depending on size of potato.

Bring the water back to the boil and add the fiddleheads and cook until just tender, about two to three minutes. Use the slotted spoon to transfer the fiddleheads to a bowl of iced water for 5 minutes.  Drain and keep aside.

Heat the oil in a karhai, wok or large saute pan over medium high heat.  Add the cumin, coriander seeds and dried red chilies and cook for 30 seconds. Toss in potatoes, remaining spices and some salt. Reduce heat to medium and saute for 3-4 minutes until the potatoes are warm.  Add fiddleheads and cook for another minute or so. Adjust seasoning and serve immediately garnished with some fresh coriander.

*Note: Fiddlehead ferns are like wild mushrooms in that some species are ok for human consumption while others are not. So, it’s best to purchase them from a well known vendor.   Fiddleheads should be boiled first in boiling water before proceeding with any recipe.

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