Alkali preparation or Khaar
Khaar is one of the most popular and quintessential preparation of households of Assam. The recipe got its name from the main ingredients that are used in the preparation which is basically an alkali made by burning banana trees/trunks from which ashes are obtained. These ashes are then decanted and filtered into a dark wood-brown liquid called kalaa khaar or banana ash extract. It is served as a second course of the meal following a bitter mustard leaves fry. Khaar helps in digestion and has other medicinal properties such as countering acidity and can also be used as an anti-dandruff. Khaar is very versatile as it can be used with many ingredients and vegetables. It can add variety to the meal while adding its own unique flavor. It is suggested not cook khaar in copper lined utensils to prevent the any reaction of the alkali with the metal.
Before every meal it is refreshing to have a drink, which cleanses the palate. A very old tradition is the serving of horitoki punch. Horitoki or seelikha is a bitter fruit which helps in digestion and hence the punch is both refreshing and works as an appetizer. Usually seelikha is served during festival before the main prasad or ritual offering. It is cut into small pieces and served. But nowadays, it has seen new trend of soaking seelikha or horitoki in water for few hours and chilled. The water takes the flavor of the fruit and can be served both chilled or at room temperature. A refreshing drink in summers, it is also served in weddings to welcome the guests. This culinary trend is fairly new and mostly started by professional culinary college students during their annual food festival in the region.
Bamboo shoots are a delicacy in Assam. The soft tender parts of the shoot are soaked in water for few hours and drained, before using them in any dish. Bamboo shoots or even cane shoots add a zing to the dish and goes well with fish. Shoots are either served as chutney with steamed or spit baked fish or fry together with potatoes. Adding bamboo shoots has seen a renewed trend in recent times with many recipes incorporating the tang of the vegetable. It can also be had with meat such as pigeon and duck while not adding them directly to the curry. Bamboo shoots are also pickled and stored lending to its quality as an all-season ingredient. Sometimes, people like to have just the bamboo shoot with little pepper and chilli with rice. Bamboo shoot as a culinary trend of the region has a long future.
Article by: Ajitesh Shankar Das
Check out the complete recipes in the book: A Book of Gourmet Cooking by renowned culinary expert Jyoti Das Bardoloi.