Nadir Monji (Spicy, Crispy-Fried Lotus Root) with Tamarind Chutney

This is a spicy snack of crispy-fried lotus root that most often is served lashed with tamarind and green chile chutneys and a cup of kahwa tea. It's a common street food throughout Kashmir, where it's served in a newspaper cone--making it a popular train snack, too, since it's easily portable and the lotus root holds up well on long train trips. Kids love this snack not only because it's crunchy (and a bit greasy!) but also because sliced lotus root has a fun shape resembling a wagon wheel. At my home, nadir monji is a go-to playdate recipe that my daughter, Shagun, always requests on her birthday. I can't wait for the day when we can experience it together the way it should be enjoyed: at the train station in Jammu, where I wash it down with a glass of vibrant Kashmiri apple juice.
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  • Level: Easy
  • Total: 45 min
  • Active: 45 min
  • Yield: 4 servings
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Ingredients

Tamarind Chutney:

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, stir together the rice flour, chile powder, ajwain, and cumin. Season with salt.
  2. Pat the lotus roots dry to remove excess moisture and line a plate with paper towels for draining.
  3. Pour 5 inches oil into a deep heavy-bottomed pot and heat over medium-high heat to 350 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer (or a pinch of flour flicked on the surface sizzles), 7 to 9 minutes.
  4. Dredge the lotus in the seasoned flour, shaking it in your palm to remove any excess. Working a few pieces at a time (do not overcrowd the pot), fry the lotus root until golden brown on both sides, 3 to 4 minutes, using a slotted spoon to turn it as it fries to ensure even coloring. Use the slotted spoon to transfer the fried lotus to the paper towels and season with more salt or chaat masala if desired while still piping hot. Allow the oil to return to frying temperature between batches.
  5. Serve immediately with tamarind chutney.

Tamarind Chutney:

Yield: Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
  1. In a saute pan, heat the oil over medium heat until it glistens, about 2 minutes. Add the cumin, coriander, fennel, and chile flakes and saute until aromatic, about 2 minutes. Add the fresh ginger, raisins, dates, tamarind, and jaggery, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until the sauce is thick and coats the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon occasionally to prevent scorching and to encourage the flavors to mingle.
  2. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the chutney to a food processor or blender and blend on high speed until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the chaat masala, black salt, ground ginger, and a large pinch of salt. Taste and season with more salt if necessary. The chutney will keep in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. 

Cook’s Note

Tamarind pulp is used in countless recipes to add a distinctive tanginess to rice, curry, and even cocktail recipes. In chaat recipes, tamarind chutney is a required ingredient because it adds the signature pungency that so many chaats require to achieve their perfect alchemy of flavors. This chutney has a slightly mouth-puckering outcome, similar to what you might experience when tasting an unripe plum. The jaggery, dates, and raisins add sweetness, the ginger gives it brightness, and the chaat masala offers that deep umami flavor that you also find in ingredients like tomatoes and shiitake mushrooms. It might seem fussy to prepare a fresh batch at home, but the vibrant from-scratch flavors easily beat store-bought varieties. The wonders of tamarind fruit, from a leguminous tree that thrives throughout the tropical regions of Africa and Asia, cannot be overstated. It's also integral to traditional Indian medicine, where it's used for everything from treating fever and ulcers to wound healing, lowering blood sugar, losing weight, and reversing fatty liver disease. Industrious Indian homemakers even use it to polish up their copper pans and bowls!

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