Assamese cuisine is gradually making a mark in the world culinary scene. It is becoming one of the many reasons Assam is attracting tourists worldwide. Assam has great scope in culinary tourism as it is home to many ethnic groups. Each of these ethnic groups has a variety of unique and authentic delicacies to offer. Authentic Assamese cuisine is less about spices and more about natural flavors. Assamese people love to cook dishes from natural or homegrown vegetables and fruits. The cooking involves firewood to get the smoky flavor and minimal use of oil.
One such tree or fruit which grows abundantly here in Assam is the Banana tree. In Assam, all parts of the banana tree are used in preparing delicacies which are authentic. In this article, I will take you on a special culinary tour featuring banana trees, along with recipes.
I hope you enjoy this delicious and authentic Assamese platter.
1. Tupula bhaat (steamed rice wrapped in banana leaf)
Rice is the staple food here in Assam and the most important element in an Assamese thali or platter. Our first item is Tupula bhaat or rice wrapped in banana leaf. The aroma of the banana leaf gets infused with the steamed rice giving altogether a different taste to the otherwise simple rice. For this, we need steamed rice (preferably sticky rice) and banana leaf.
First we need to steam the rice instead of pressure cooking. Put water in a big bowl, place washed rice on a steamer above the bowl, cover it with a lid. Bring the water to boil and let the rice cook. Heat the banana leaf over fire to make it tender so that when wrapped the leaf doesn’t tear. A portion of the steamed rice is immediately transferred to the leaf, wrapped and tied with a banana string. Our tupula bhaat is ready! Alternatively you can simply transfer cooked rice to a banana leaf and wrap it while hot.
2. Xoru maas kol patot diya (steamed small fish wrapped in banana leaf)
Our second dish is small fish steamed in banana leaf. For this we prefer mua maas, which is a variety of small fish. But other varieties are good as well.
To marinate the cleaned small fish we need to add roughly pound ginger and garlic, split green chillies, turmeric, salt and mustard oil. This mixture is then transferred to a banana leaf. Wrap the banana leaf properly and tie it with a banana string. Barbeque the tied mixture over firewood while flipping sides. Make sure not to keep it for too long else it might burn. (Alternatively you can place the mixture on a tawa and cover it with a lid. Steam it on low flame for about 20 mins while cooking both sides of the wrap).
Once the wrap is done let it sit for a few minutes. Add freshly chopped coriander and little lime juice to the steamed fish, mix it properly and you are ready to relish this flavoursome dish infused with the aroma of smoked banana leaf.
3. Kol posola boot anja (banana stem with brown chickpeas)
Kol posola is the stem of the banana tree. We peel off the outer hard layers and eat the tender, moist inner part. The cooking style differs from person to person but what matters is the flavour of the dish.
Pour mustard oil into a pan and heat it. Add a bay leaf or two, one whole dry red chilly, finely chopped onions, ginger garlic paste, some green chillies and fry. Add a little cumin powder for taste. After the mixture turns golden brown, add soaked/ boiled brown chickpeas, salt and turmeric and let it cook. After the peas are half cooked add the finely cut banana stem, mix well and cook again in medium flame. Add a little water and allow it to evaporate and moisten the mixture. Your third dish of the platter is ready!
I remember eating the most delicious posola bhaji at our community feasts of Srimanta Sankardeva Sangha. The dish always turned out so hot my tongue used to literally stick out. Why, because the cooks added tons of green chillies inorder to add zing to the all vegetarian meal. But nobody held back from eating this extremely hot and delicious banana stem dish.
4. Kaskol masor anja (fish cooked with raw banana)
Kaskol or raw banana is mostly consumed as chips, or simple fry. Fish with raw banana is also a common dish but what’s authentic about it being Assamese is in cooking style and flavors. And Assamese cooking is mostly about less oil and less spices.
Start by peeling off the bananas and then cut it into pieces of your choice. Heat mustard oil in a pan, add bay leaf, dry red chilly, paanchphuran ( five basic spices ), onions and ginger garlic paste. After the onion turns golden brown add the raw banana and one potato cut into pieces, add salt and turmeric, mix well and cook on medium flame. Simultaneously, fry a few pieces of fish, any variety you want, and keep aside. Check the mixture, and once it’s cooked add warm water and let it come to boil. Add the fried pieces of fish and let it cook for a few minutes. Mash a few pieces of the raw banana and potato to make the gravy thicker and garnish with freshly chopped coriander.
5. Koldil murgi manxho (banana flower with country chicken)
The fifth dish on our plate is the much hyped banana flower with country chicken. Rich in minerals like phosphorus, calcium, potassium, copper, magnesium and iron banana flower is indeed a super food. Let’s learn how to make this dish.
After cutting the banana flower, wash in salt water and drain. Heat mustard oil in a pan, add a bay leaf and dry red chilly, a little cumin seeds. Then add the chopped onions and fry, later add the ginger garlic paste, cumin and coriander powder. After a while add the chicken pieces, turmeric, salt and cook for about 3-4 mins in medium flame. Now add the banana flower, mix well and cook in low flame while stirring occasionally. Country chicken takes time to cook and hence you have to keep checking from time to time. You can opt to add water or leave it dry based on your preference.
6. Kol khaar
Kol khaar is actually a kind of alkali prepared from the banana peel of the variety called musa bulbisina or bheem kol in Assamese If this variety is not available then you can make use of any other variety. First dry the banana peels properly in sunlight, then burn the peels and soak them in water. Mix properly and then drain the water through a cloth or strainer to strain the ash. The water thus obtained is the alkali khaar. Kol khaar is the organic version of sodium bicarbonate.
Let’s learn how to use this kol khaar in cooking. The dish is called omita khaar or raw papaya khaar. Heat mustard oil, then add bay leaf, dry red chilly and paanch phuran or five whole spices ( cumin, fennel, kalonji, mustard and methi). Add the cut pieces of raw papaya, salt and cook. We normally do not use turmeric in khaar. When the papaya is soft and almost cooked add about 2-3 spoonfuls of liquid kol khaar with a little water. Allow the mixture to soak in the khaar and water, omita khaar is ready to serve!
7. Bhapot diya Kol pitha (steamed banana pancake)
The dessert on the platter is steamed banana pitha which is the most simple, healthy and tastiest dessert ever. Mash about 2-3 ripe bananas, add rice flour and jaggery and knead it into a batter. Take banana leaves, cut into pieces and heat it to make it tender. Put a little of the batter into the banana leaves, wrap the leaf and flatten the batter. Tie the wrap and steam it on a pan covering the lid while flipping sides. The flame should be medium. This tastes best with a cup of Asssm black tea alongside jaggery. But this serves as our dessert in our platter featuring banana tree.
8. Koldil bor (banana blossom fritters)
All the dishes mentioned above have been tried and tasted, and banana flower fritters was the only dish which I had never tasted. But as I started writing this post I knew for sure that I have to taste it before I recommend it to you all. So a few days back I made them and trust me when I say, this snack is “finger licking good”.
All you need to do is separate the banana flowers but try not to break them. Then boil them in water while adding a little salt. Drain and keep them aside. I had soaked masoor dal for about 5-6 hours and later made a paste out of it. I added salt and chilly powder to the paste and mixed properly. To get the consistency perfect for making fritters I added a little water to the paste. Next I heated mustard oil in a pan, dipped the boiled banana flower into the mixture and deep fried it. Voila! Deep fried banana blossom fritters is the perfect starter to this platter.