Assamese papaya curry (Omitar khar)

Assamese cuisine is relatively less explored within India. The basic food items in an Assamese lunch or dinner menu is more or less similar to many other Indian meal, including mostly daal (pulses), vegetables either fried or in thick gravy, rice and salad. These get mostly accompanied by fish fry or gravy, or chicken or such meat. However, the way various food items are prepared varies, well more than slightly, from most other Indian cuisines.

I, being an Assamese living in the Northern parts of India, have decided to start my first post based on my version of an Assamese curry, which is served at the very start of a meal as an appetizer. This thick gravy – which can be made with both vegetarian and non-vegetarian ingredients – is known as “Khar” and is made with some really unique ingredients. “Khar” is nothing but the filtered water that has been run through charred “dried banana peels”. The water, therefore, is black in colour, and is added to the preparation at the end. Therefore, the original “khar” curry looks kind of dark brown in colour and has an awesome smoky flavour that can’t be found in any other cuisine.

However, it is very difficult to find dried banana peels if you are staying out of Assam. Therefore, I am using the most useful or easily available substitute for this, i.e. Soda bicarbonate (cooking soda) to make this curry, and I hope you enjoy it!

The following preparation serves four.

Ingredients:

  1. Two cups of chopped raw papaya, in cubes
  2. ¼ cup of Moong daal (green gram pulses)
  3. ½ cup of peas
  4. One medium onion
  5. 3-4 cloves of garlic
  6. 3-4 green chillies or according to your taste
  7. ½ teaspoon paas furon (a mix of spices) – if you do not have this, you can also use a mix of saunf (aniseed), rai (mustard seeds), methi (fenugreek seeds), jeera (cumin seeds).
  8. ¼ teaspoon of black sesame seeds
  9. One teaspoon turmeric powder
  10. A pinch of cooking soda or soda bicarbonate
  11. One tablespoon mustard oil, and few drops to garnish
  12. Salt as per taste

Method:

  1. Wash thoroughly and chop the papaya into bite size cubes.
  2. Put the chopped papaya, daal and split green chillies, with salt and two cups of water, in the pressure cooker and cook for 3-4 whistles over medium heat. If you do not have a pressure cooker, you can also boil it for 20-30 minutes, or till the papaya cubes are completely tender.
  3. Heat oil, and add paas furon and black sesame seeds.
  4. Now add chopped onion and chopped garlic with turmeric.
  5. Once the onions are cooked add peas and fry.
  6. Now add the boiled papaya, along with the water. Season with salt accordingly.
  7. Let it cook for 5-7 minutes over medium to high heat.
  8. Now add the cooking soda and switch off the flame. Sprinkle a few drops of mustard oil on top of the curry.

Serve this with hot steaming rice, as a first item of your menu.

You can also substitute papaya with cooked gourd, pumpkin or banana stem to make a vegetarian version. While to make a non-vegetarian version, reduce the amount of vegetable and substitute that with slightly fried river fish such as Rohu.

Hope you enjoy this!

Stay tuned for many more Assamese and other world cuisine dishes.