Fiddlehead Stir Fry Recipe
Assamese cuisine is neither pretentious nor fussy but don’t be mistaken about its simplicity either – their cuisine is absolutely delicious in every sense of the word. Fiddleheads are commonly eaten & enjoyed throughout Assam. They are similar to a bean but are actually the furled fronds of a young fern plant, harvested early in their growing season.
In Assam, fiddleheads are called “dhekia” and they are prepared in a simple stir-fry known as “Dhekia Xaak”. Now if you have never had fiddlehead ferns before, you are in for a real treat. I’ve rarely seen these at our local Indian grocery store & almost never at the local supermarket. But if you have a local farmer’s market, gourmet grocery store or large produce market nearby – these are probably your best bets. Fiddleheads are also a seasonal vegetable and are available only for a short time during the spring season. So if you’re lucky enough to find them, please do give them a try!
FIDDLEHEAD STIR-FRY (Assamese Dhekia Xaak)
2 cups fresh fiddlehead ferns
2 tbsp split chana dal (Bengal gram dal)
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
2-3 dried red chilies, to taste
pinch of asafetida (hing)
1 tsp turmeric (haldi)
salt & pepper, to taste
1 tbsp oil (vegetable or canola)
juice of ½ lemon
freshly chopped cilantro leaves for garnish
Soak the chana dal in just enough water to cover, let sit for at least 30 minutes. Drain well & set aside until needed.
First, prepare the fiddleheads by removing the fuzzy outer fronds & any brownish/yellow paper-like outer covering. Also, cut off any dry brown ends & trim the stem so it is less than 2” in length. Then wash the fiddleheads in cold water, using several changes of water & briskly swishing the fiddleheads about with your hand to loosen up any dirt & debris. Some varieties of fiddleheads may cause illness in some people when eaten raw, so do not eat raw fiddleheads!
Then bring a large pot of water to a good vigorous boil, add the fiddleheads & let simmer for 12-15 minutes or until just tender. Drain them very well & set aside until needed.
Now in a large deep skillet or wok on medium high heat, add the oil. When hot, carefully add the black mustard seeds. When the splattering stops, reduce the heat to medium low and add the cumin seeds first followed by the (very well drained) chana dal. After about 30 seconds, add the dried red chilies along with the asafetida and turmeric. Stir and let cook for another minute or so before adding the in the fiddleheads. Mix well to combine, season with salt, pepper & the lemon juice. Stir well to coat the fiddleheads in all of the lovely spices. Garnish with the freshly chopped cilantro and serve with fresh chapatis & fragrant Basmati rice.
Although not traditional, add a few toasted unsalted peanuts or cashew pieces for great texture & crunch ☺.
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