Active Cooking: Assamese Cuisine

Assam is the land of the mighty Brahmaputra and the famed one horned rhino. Its pristine forests and tea gardens provide the serenity that only nature can give. The greeneries are yet untouched by the hand of capitalism. The pride in our hearts for our homeland can be best described by the songs of Late Dr. Bhupen Hazarika.

The cuisine of Assam is a treat for the senses. It will not be boastful, if I say that no other region in the country can cook the variety of river fish that we can. The abundance of fish is provided by the Brahmaputra that flows through the midst of the state. One such dish is the “Masor Tenga”. It is not just a fish curry; it is a tangy dish with turmeric as the only spice added for colour. This is the recipe from the head cook of Axomi restaurant, Koramangala, who prepares it atleast three times a day.

Ingredients-

  • Half an onion- sliced
  • One ripe tomato- chopped into small pieces
  • One rohu fish, cleaned and cut
  • Mustard seeds- 1 tbsp
  • Turmeric powder- 1 tbsp
  • Green chilli- 2
  • Salt according to taste
  • Mustard oil for frying

Method-

  1. Deep fry the fish pieces in mustard oil beforehand. When cooked well, take out of the pan and place on tissue paper to soak the oil.
  2. In a separate pan, pour 2 tbsp of mustard oil on high flame. When the oil becomes hot, add the mustard seeds, green chillies to it. Once the seeds start crackling, add the onion and tomato. Fry till the onion turns brown. Add the turmeric powder to the pan and mix well.
  3. Now add 2 cups of water to the pan for the gravy. When the water starts to boil, the fish is ready to be added to it.
  4. Add the fried fish to the gravy. Add salt according to taste. The consistency can be changed by adding more water.
  5. Serve hot with plain rice.

Mrs. Krishna Baruah, the Additional District Magistrate of Nalbari district of Assam shares two of her favourite recipes with us. “Assamese cuisine is unique because a majority of the dishes were established based on their nutrition component. Very few dishes make use of ghee or unhealthy ingredients.”

“Khar” is one such dish. It is a high fibre dish that is eaten once a month and only in the daytime. It aids the body in keeping the digestive system healthy. Traditionally cooked with raw papaya, this recipe is often used as a substitute due to the unavailability of raw papayas in many regions. Ingredients-

  • One Cucumber- cubed into small pieces
  • Peel of Bhim kol-1
  • Moong dal- 1 tbsp, soaked in water overnight
  • Red channa- 1 tbsp, soaked in water overnight
  • Mustard seeds-1 tsp
  • Mustard oil- 2 tbsp for cooking and garnishing
  • Dried red chillies-2

Method-

  1. First, the dried peel of Bhim kol- an indigenious variety of Banana is burnt on the stove. It is immediately put in a bowl of water. This kept till the peel become cold. Now, strain the mixture and keep the filtrated water seperately.
  2. In a pan, add 2 tbsp of mustard oil. Mustard oil is the most common medium of cooking in Assam. When it turns hot, add the mustard seeds and dried red chilli. Once the seeds start to crackle, add the cucumber pieces and a small amount of salt. Cooik it on low flame till the cucmbers become soft.
  3. Now, add the filtrated water of Bhim kol to the cucmbers. Mix well.
  4. Strain the moong dal and red channa which were soaked overnight to the pan. Cook this mixture for 20-25 mins.
  5. Serve hot with a tablespoon of mustard oil on top.

The villagers of Assam are full of farmers. The main occupation of the region is agriculture. The festival of Bihu, which is celebrated three times a year to mark the three stages of farming, is a treat for the eyes. Villages are decorated, the girls and boys dance to the tunes of famous Assamese songs and the farmers pray to God for their crops. A common delicacy in rural Assam is “Labra Bhaji”. It is a unique dish that was created to stop wastage of vegetables. It is a common custom to eat Labra bhaji at the end of the week, for most Assamese households.

Ingredients-

  • A quarter of a pumpkin- diced
  • A quarter of a cabbage- thinly sliced
  • One brinjal- diced
  • One squash- diced
  • One small cauliflower- cut into florets.
  • One carrot- cut into small pieces
  • One tomato- sliced into thin stripes
  • One onion- diced
  • Cumin powder- 1 tsp
  • Coriander powder- 1 tsp
  • Turmeric powder- 1 tsp
  • Panch phoron-1 tsp
  • Red dried chilli- 2
  • Ground black pepper- 1 tsp
  • Ginger garlic paste- 1 tbsp
  • Salt according to taste

Method-

  1. Heat a pan on the stove with mustard oil. Once hot, add panch phoron and dried red chilli to it.
  2. When the seeds splutter, add the ginger garlic paste. Add the cut vegetables to the pan with salt to taste.
  3. Cover the pan and cook on low flame till all the vegetables are properly cooked.
  4. Now add the spices- cumin powder, turmeric powder and coriander powder to the vegetables. Mix well. Cover and cook for 10 minutes. Add water if the dish is to be eaten with rice.
  5. Turn off the flame and add some ghee on top and keep covered
  6. Serve hot with rice or chapati.

Cookin-khar Cooking-Labra bhaji

Indrani Bharadwaj

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