Assam lies in the northeastern part of India. It has a tropical climate with undulating hills and wide-open valleys and boasts of abundant plant and wildlife. Assamese cuisine is characterized by the cooking habits of the hills as well as of its Brahmaputra valley. Here are top10 foods from the region. Check out the complete recipes in the book: A Book of Gourmet Cooking by renowned culinary expert Jyoti Das Bardoloi.
1.Banana Shoot Khaar
Khaar is one of the most popular and quintessential preparation of Assam. Its name derives from the main ingredient which is basically an alkali made by burning banana trunks from which ashes are obtained. The ashes are then decanted and filtered into a dark wood-brown liquid called ‘khaaroni paani’(banana ash extract). It is served as the first course of the meal which aids in digestion. Interestingly, it is believed that when salt was not availableeasily, people used khaar totenderize meat, lentils or even vegetables such as gourd.
2. Red Lentil with Elephant Apple
Elephant apple is one of the most popular fruit in Assam. It lends a tangy taste to the preparation and is an ideal dish for summers to keep the body cool and stomach healthy. Red lentil can be soaked overnight or in the morning. It is then lightly fried with little oil and spices. The carpels of elephant apple are removed and soaked in water with a little salt. The soaked carpels are then removed from water, drained and added to the fried lentils. It is cooked till it boils and lends the signature golden yellow color of the dish. Fun fact: The elephant apples are so big that some kids still use them as soccer balls.
3.Duck with white pumpkin
Ducks are widely available in the region and many popular dishes are made using this delicacy. One of the most popular one is with white pumpkin. White pumpkin helps to counter the high fat content ofthe meat and helps in it cooking thoroughly. The resulting dish has a very rich texture with the pumpkin absorbed by the meat. It is usually served hot with brown rice in the festival season.
4. Pigeon meat with banana flower
Pigeon meat is another delicacy of the region.In this version of the dish, it is paired with banana flower widely regardedhigh in potassium. The banana flower stigma are removed from the fruit and cutinto small pieces. It is fried with spices and the meat is added. The banana flower adds a sharp flavor to the softer flavor of the meat and balances itnicely. It is a mouth watering dish which people prefer to have with steamed white rice.
5. Tangy fish curry
Fish is a must have in all Assamese households.It can be made in variety of ways. Here, we use a classic ingredient, tomato. Tomato gives a tangy flavor to the curry and pairs well with the fish. The fishis usually cut into prime pieces, marinated with spices and lightly fried inlittle oil. The curry is then prepared with tomato, spices and little garlic.The fish pieces are then added and brought to boil to cook the curry into itssignature saffron hew.
6. Mustard greens with bamboo shoot
Mustard greens are healthy green leafyvegetables high in Vitamin A, C, K and calcium. These are usually prepared withbamboo shoots which are known to be a good pain reliever from joint pain. Thesharp bitter taste of the mustard greens is nicely balanced by the sour flavorof the bamboo shoots. It is served as a side dish.
7.Spit-baked fish with cane shoot
This is nice side dish which can served during lunch or even had with refreshments in the late afternoon or evening. The fishare usually of smaller variety such as Indian river shed, Labeo and climbing perch. The fish is cleaned, washed and skewered with bamboo sticks soaked inwater. The soaked bamboo sticks prevent them from getting burnt too quickly when put over the spit. These are then put over a coal fired spit or barbecue and turning from time to time. When done, these then served with cane shoots as whole or the fish can be mashed to form a mashed preparation which can be hadas it is or with a salad.
8.Poppy seeds parcels
Poppy are very popular in the region. These are usually cooked as parcels baked in banana or turmeric leaves. The leaves used lends it taste to the preparation. The poppy seeds are soaked in water for halfan hour, ground into fine paste and mixed ground chili and onion paste. These are then wrapped in banana or turmeric leaves and steamed or spit-baked overcoal. They are served with chutney as a side dish.
9.Finger millet kheer
Kheer is a sweet dish similar to sweetporridge. It is usually made with joha rice but in this preparation, weshowcase a traditional dish made with finger millet. The millet is soaked inwater for about an hour. Milk is heated in a pan and the millet, bay leaves andcrushed green cardamoms are added. After a boil, cut figs and sugar are addedand cooked till it thickens. Served hot with ghee.
10.Assorted pithas (sweets)
Sweets in Assam come in many different variety.One of the most popular ones are ‘pithas’.These come in many different shapes and sizes to reflect the diverse culture ofthe region. Almost all pithas are made with rice flour with different ricevarieties including joha (fragrant)rice, boraa (sticky) rice, brown riceetc. In olden days, pithas were used to be prepared on hot earthen plate orroasting pan and then that earthen plate was placed on hot sand to acquire theexact crispiness of the pithas.