When Lal-Ded, the fourteenth-century mystic spun the wool so fine on her spinster that the threads appeared to be glorious shafts of light, her cruel mother-in-law still depicted dissatisfaction at her work and threw the bun of spun wool into the Dal Lake. It is believed that the lake, having a kinder heart than Lal Ded’s mother-in-law, swallowed the threads and put them into Nadyir (Lotus Roots) so that it can forever be proof of Lal Ded’s perseverance and patience, and give the women in Kashmir, a hope to sustain with. Whenever women eat, cook, or cut the Nadyir, the strands of hair appearing out of the lotus roots remind them of Lal Ded's triumph.
Kashmir’s long affair with Nadur is full of anecdotes that depict a special bond that people have shared with this special vegetable delicacy for eons. Nadur is one of the costliest Kashmiri vegetables, available in every nook and corner of the valley that every Kashmiri worth his salt cannot help but be fond of.
Nadur (Singular) or Nadyir (Plural) is the long stem of the lotus plant that is grown in the marshy bogs of the local freshwater lakes. The famous Kashmiri cuisine is incomplete without the delightful taste of the mouth-watering dishes that are conjured by the Kashmiri housewives out of these cream-textured slender vegetables.
The Nadyir can grow as tall as four feet under the water. The tubular shape of the root helps the lotus plant store the energy in the form of starch. On the outside, the root is smooth and has a creamy color, while internally, it's white and has crisp flesh.
During summer, the surface of Kashmir’s lakes is dotted by the sweet flocks of buoyant lotus flowers that dance a dance of fragrance and grace. And then, when the flowers wither and the autumn arrives, the farmers row their Shikaras into the marshes and harvest the roots of these dead beauties.
The lotus-root harvest usually starts in Mid-November and continues into the last month of the year. Often the harvesting tools are used, but sometimes the farmers have to dip into the lake wearing waterproof bodywear and pluck the roots out with their bare hands. One Kanal of marshy bog could produce at least three hundred bundles of Nadyir roots.
According to Tariq Ahmad Tiploo, a Nadyir farmer in Anchar Lake, “in the Anchar lake alone, there are nearly 900 Kanals (112.5 acres) of marshy land that are divided between one thousand Nadyir growing families from the localities on banks of Anchar.”
Similarly, according to Ghulam Hassan, another old gentleman who has been involved in the Nadyir farming for the past 30 years, every lake in Kashmir grows a Nadur that is different in taste and quality.
“Previously, the Nadur from Dal lake was considered best, but nowadays, Anchar grows the best Nadyir, because it has not suffered as much as the Dal Lake has from the rising water pollution,” Hassan added while expressing concern about the water pollution.
Hassan says that Nadur was once a poor man’s delight and “those poor people who could not afford meat or those Hindu and Buddhist brothers who refrained from meat would buy the Nadur with great passion.”
Hassan says that Nadur is a delight when cooked with Rajma or Spanish.
But apart from Hassan's personal favorite Nadyir dish where it is cooked into a curry with Rajma and Spanish, there is a lot more that a person can do with his Nadyir. Some really creative foody people have even attempted to make Nadyir Kababs.
Nadyir Yakhni, a curry prepared in the combination of ghee, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, aniseed, ginger, yogurt, and salt, is another delightful dish that you can come up with Nadyir.
In my opinion, nothing equals the taste of Nadyir Monje, crisp fritters prepared by dipping slender Nadyir pieces into a batter of Soya flour which are then deep-fried in mustard oil. Vendors all across the valley sell Nadyir Monji outside Shrines and mosques, and it may not be an exaggeration to say that Nadyir Monje, with an onion vinegar Chutney, is a coveted addiction in Kashmir.
Similarly, Nadir Anchar (Lotus-root pickle) is another mouth-puckering, lip-smacking, finger-licking delicious item that you can make from the Nadyir.
Now, to make you more passionate about the Nadyir; it turns out that lotus root has great medicinal properties and researchers have found that it helps in keeping the gut, heart, and brain healthy. The rhizomes in the root contain powerful antioxidants that help protect the human body from diseases and provide nutrients that boost the digestive and cardiovascular systems.
Pertinently, apart from being tasty when fresh, Pambich (Seed head) that contains the seeds from the lotus tree is also medicinal in nature.
“In the past, Hakeems (apothecaries) used to row into the lake, go about the lotus fields and pick the seeds. The seed of the lotus is considered immensely medicinal,” Hassan added while speaking on the medicinal quality of the lotus seeds with Rising Kashmir.
According to medical research, apart from anti-oxidants, the seeds contain protein, calcium, phosphorus, manganese, iron, and potassium. In addition to treating heart and kidney problems, the benefit of consuming lotus seeds is that they can address insomnia, diarrhea, appetite loss, senile dementia, blood pressure, aging, Inflammation, weight loss, urinary tract infection, skin issues, and sexual problems.
In the south-Asian culture, the lotus roots and seeds have been widely used for medical and culinary purposes. The Greeks too were aware that in many parts of the world, people are so hooked to lotus products that they called them lotophaguses, meaning lotus-eaters.
According to the Greek myth, when Odysseus, the Greek hero was returning from Troy, a north wind drove him and his men away from Cape Malea and they landed on an unknown Island. The lotus fruits, flowers, and its subsidiary items were the primary food on the island and were a narcotic in nature, causing the inhabitants to sleep in peaceful apathy.
Unfortunately, Kashmir’s love affair with Nadyir is threatened by pollution and rapid environmental changes. Pollution has become a huge headache for the farmers in Dal Lake and Anchar. The production has greatly reduced due to it. The farmers are not able to make as much money as they were previously making and this is a concern because they may give up on the production altogether.
“We do not prefer to put our children into Nadyir farming because it doesn't seem that it would give them a stable future,” a Nadyir farmer at Anchar added while speaking with Rising Kashmir. “Last year there was a significant produce, but this year the scenario is dire.”
Round the year, the farmers try to keep their fields clean by building floating grassy walls around and cleaning the inner waters of their marshy lands. Alas, the pollution manages to seep through and always destroys the produce.
“The lake marshes, which is the only feasible area for the production of Lotus flower, have significantly decreased due to landfilling and construction. The water level is also dangerously rising and sometimes when it floods, the entire production is lost,” Tiploo added.
In the Anchar Lake especially, where the run-off water from Sonmarg’s snow is deposited, floods have continuously been giving a headache to the farmers. It happens that if the water buries the lotus leaves or the flowers under (even if it’s only for four days) the roots decay instantly due to lack of sunlight and the growers lose a year’s labor in a moment's time.
In 2014, the September floods wiped out the Lotus-root production from the entire Dal Lake and it took the farmers almost three years to revive the Nadur in the lake.
From growers, middlemen, vegetable sellers, and Fritter vendors, thousands of livelihoods are dependent on the wealth called Nadur in Kashmir. If this precious item is lost, not only the cuisine but the economy of the Kashmir valley would also suffer a great loss.
Health Benefits of Nadur
Helps the Skin Glow: Nadur is rich in vitamin C. Thanks to its antioxidant content; vitamin C benefits the health of human skin through several different mechanisms. The roots also help reduce the signs of hyperpigmentation which include dark patches and discoloration of the skin.
Boosts Brain Health: Along with the beef liver, sunflower seeds, and cashews, Nadur is considered a food high in copper. Not only does copper help promote energy levels, strengthen bones, and support metabolism, but it also helps boost brain health by enabling the function of neural pathways. A study published in the Journal of Dietary Supplements suggests that the large amounts of polyphenolic compounds in lotus root help improve neural function.
Increases Energy: Consuming Nadur increases the iron levels in the human body. Iron supports ongoing energy by allowing oxygen to reach the cells. When a person has an iron deficiency, he often feels tired, sluggish, and has trouble concentrating. Eating iron-rich foods helps increase oxygen levels in cells and muscles. It also allows iron to promote the proper digestion of proteins and absorption of nutrients from food.
Helps in Digestion and Weight Management: Research published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism indicates that apart from relieving constipation, consumption of dietary fiber helps reduce hunger, thereby reducing total energy intake and preventing weight gain.
Improves Cardiovascular Health: Nadur is also a good source of potassium. Potassium is responsible for making sure that your heart rhythm is healthy. People with low potassium levels are at a greater risk of heart diseases, especially stroke. This is because potassium prevents the build-up of fluids in human cells. Thereby, it helps lower blood pressure levels and cardiovascular issues like heart palpitations, poor circulation, and narrowing arteries.
Boosts Immunity: Because Nadur is an excellent source of vitamin C, which works as an antioxidant in the body, it helps boost the human immune system. According to research published in the journal of Nutrients, vitamin C contributes to immune defense by supporting various cellular functions. These include supporting epithelial barrier function against pathogens, promoting oxidant scavenging activity, and promoting microbial killing. A vitamin C deficiency may result in impaired immunity and higher susceptibility to infections.