Visiting Chinatown is becoming a very dangerous affair for me. Every time I go I come back with a bag of food discoveries I don’t technically need…or even know what it is. Here is one one of those unknown discoveries, it’s a doozie.
I saw this box of ‘stuff’ for sale at 2,99/lb outside an Asian grocery store…
These things looked like bull heads, or devil heads, or even evil demon bunny heads. The sign said Water Calton…at least that is what I was able to read. From past experience English names in Chinatown are not reliable. I bought a handful and could not wait to get home and research my devilish find.
OK so googling Water Calton brought nothing up except a suggestion of Carlton from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air!!! Ah, pretty sure that is wrong. After playing with word combination I finally found out what these were: water caltrops.
And a whole series of nicknames: Black Horn Nut, Bat Nut, Devil Pod, Buffalo Nut. They are the seed pod of an Oriental aquatic plant. China and India have been cultivating them for over 3,000 years but can be found also in Asia and Africa. They are toxic if uncooked. There is a fury tuff at the top of the bull’s head and they do have a bit of a strange odor.
Cover them in water and some salt, bring to a boil and simmer for 25-30 minutes. Let them rest another 20 min. Then crack them open (very bad but as I read the easiest is with your teeth) and enjoy their chestnut like taste and texture. They taste like a cross between chestnuts and water chestnuts, maybe even a bit like Brazil nuts, but with a starchy texture. They can be added when cooked to rice and vegetable dishes.
They are in season in Fall and are a traditional food of the Chinese mid-autumn festival. I think they would also make awesome Halloween food props. One article I read said some people believe nailing a caltrop above your door while it is looking out will protect your home from evil spirits.