If you've only consumed water chestnuts from a can, you haven't really had water chestnuts at all. The difference between canned and fresh is like canned pineapple vs. fresh.
Canned water chestnuts are bland and flavorless; fresh water chestnuts have a pleasantly sweet and crunchy texture, similar to coconut and jicama.
The basics: A water chestnut is the corm of a water plant that originated in Southeast Asia. The Chinese are very fond of this aquatic vegetable that is similar to a chestnut, but grows underwater in mud paddies, often next to rice. The crisp, white flesh is covered by a brownish black skin, which needs to be removed. Although called a chestnut, it is not a nut at all and contains almost no fat. Water chestnuts are believed to aid digestion and relieve certain stomach problems.
Selecting: Look for water chestnuts that are firm and free of soft spots. They will look a bit dusty, but the skin should also be smooth and shiny. Old or decayed water chestnuts will have a strong sour smell.
Storing: Place in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator for up to one week. If water chestnuts are left out they will start to sprout.
Use: Rinse water chestnuts thoroughly. Peel the outer skin with a sharp paring knife. They can then be sliced or diced. If they won't be used right away, place them in a bowl of water to prevent browning.
Water chestnuts are used in stir-fry dishes or are finely chopped and added to gyoza or wonton fillings.
Fresh water chestnuts can also be added to salads and soups. Try adding them to ground chicken with a bit of soy sauce for a tasty chicken patty. Fresh water chestnuts should be cooked only briefly to retain their crisp texture. They can also be consumed raw.
Where to buy: Fresh water chestnuts are available year-round but are best in the summer and early fall months. Find them now in stock at shops in Chinatown and other Asian markets at $2 to $3 a pound.
Food Stuffs: Morsels
Eleanor Nakama-Mitsunaga is
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