Friday, May 2, 2014

:::অমিতাৰ খাৰ (Papaya with Alkali):::

This is another staple from my kitchen. If you are an Assamese or if you have lived in Assam for a long long time, you must have experienced this culinary delight.


Well, as a matter of fact, we, Assamese people are commonly referred to as "খাৰ খোৱা অসমীয়া" (khar eating Assamese), which often has an underlying indication that we are a bit lazy in nature. That is definitely changing now. Nevertheless, we love our khars:)

In an ideal Assamese meal, we generally start off with khar. You can make a khar dish with different primary ingredient like papaya (Assamese synonym: Amita), spinach, black gram, night jasmine flower etc. In my home, papaya was most frequently used.

Amitar Khar (papaya with alkali) in an Assamese household will usually include fish head from larger fishes (typically Rohu). The succulent fatty and pulpy taste of the fried fish head amalgamates with the alkali and slightly sweeter flavour of the unripe papaya to create this mouth-watering taste that every Assamese loves :) And the crunchiness of that fried fish head!! Yummmmmmy!!! It is not always easy to find Rohu here, so I have had substituted fish head with regular fish pieces or smaller fishes like Mua fish or younger Catfish. You can even skip the fish altogether. It is still going to taste awesome. 

Traditionally, khar is made from burning or sun-drying a typical banana tree stem or banana peel. The ash produced thereafter is mixed with water! The water is what we call khar. Generally for one meal serving 4 people, you don't need more than 3-4 teaspoons. But, this is definitely not the easiest way to prepare khar, specially if you are living outside Assam. "Baking Soda" is the most easiest and widely used alternative. Taste wise, it performs exactly the same. 

So here it goes...
Ingredients: Mustard oil (highly recommended), Red Chili, Bay Leaves, Pas Furon (five spices mix) or Mustard Seeds, Salt, Unripe PapayaKhar or Baking Soda, Fish-head or other fish pieces, Turmeric Powder (for fish pieces), Green Chili (optional), Potato (optional)

Important Note:
  • Make sure to get an unripe papaya. Even a slight ripe papaya may make the taste undesirably sweet.
  • Keep in mind that there is no need of onion, garlic, ginger or any kind of spices. I have seen khar recipes with these ingredients, but I really prefer making mine with the minimal spices and ingredients.
  • Be extremely careful about the amount of soda you are putting. More amount is going to leave a bitter aftertaste.
  1. Peel off the papaya, scoop the seeds, slice it and chop into small thin pieces. This may take a generous amount of time, specially for a larger size papaya. But the thinner the pieces, the lesser is the cooking time.
  2. I like to marinate the fish head with salt and turmeric for few minutes. Fry in your choice of oil. Make sure it is well fried.
  3. Heat mustard oil in a pan. Add the mustard seed/pas furon, bay leaves and red chillies when the oil is properly heated. The seeds will start to splatter (So be careful ;))
  4. Add papaya and potato pieces. Stir occasionally.
  5. After few minutes add salt and the soda. For a rather big-size papaya, 1/2 spoon soda should be enough.
  6. You will see the papaya pieces dissolve almost immediately. Keep stirring occasionally.
  7. Once you feel that the papaya is almost cooked, add the fried fish head. I try to break it into smaller fragments. This helps in allowing the flavour of the fish melt into the papaya.
  8. Cook for some more time.
  9. Serve with rice.

This is one of my "all-time favourite food". I am pretty sure, if you are from the land of Assam, you already have attempted or will attempt this recipe at least once in your life. :) And if the whole concept of alkali as food is totally new to you and you decide to experiment; I would love to know more. Comment below :)

Love,
~Aru
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