by Indira Kakati.
Khar is an integral part of Assamese cuisine and a meal, generally lunch, starts with khar. It is an indigenous product, an alkaline-based delicacy of Assam. The Assamese people cannot do without it and hence the epithet ‘khar khuwa asomiya’. It is prepared from the banana peel as well as the trunk of the banana plant. The peel of aathiya or bheem kol (a particular variety of banana –Musa Bulbisina) is the best for this preparation as its peel is thicker.
Kola khar. For a smaller amount of khar, the peel of the bheem banana is enough. The banana peel is first dried and then burnt. Subsequently, the ash is mixed with water and kept overnight. The next morning the ash settles to at the bottom of the container and the mixture is filtered through a fine cloth. The liquid thus collected is the khar. The clear water collected is kept in glass container for future use.
How to make kola khar at home.
- Dry the banana peel.
2. Burn the dried peel.
3. Collect the ashes.
4. Mix the ashes with 1 cup of water and let it rest for about 12 hours.
5. After 12 hours or so the ashes will settle down at the bottom. Filter the clear water carefully with a clean cloth. The filtered water is the kola khar.
Sodium bicarbonate is a good substitute for kola khar, but it should be used in a small quantity.
During community feasts when a larger amount of khar is needed the trunk and the corm (bulb) of young banana plant are used. The trunk and the corm is cut into small pieces and dried thoroughly in the sun. A small area on the ground is prepared by cleaning and plastering with mud. Here the dried banana trunk is burnt. The ash is collected and kept in a clean earthen pot or any other container.
Whenever khar is required, a small amount of the ash is soaked in water, kept overnight and allowed to settle. The next morning the mixture is filtered through a fine cloth. However khar made from the banana trunk has lesser strength than the khar made from banana peel.
Posola Khar. The trunk of a young banana tree is cut into small pieces. The trunk of the banana tree is actually wrapped up tightly with several leaf sheaths. These sheaths are removed one by one till you cannot remove any more. This white cylindrical portion of the banana stem is called posola.
These days, readymade khar can be bought from the market in liquid form. Khar is the name given to both the alkaline solution and the dish prepared using this ingredient.
Khar it is generally consumed once a week. Proverbs are said to reflect social customs and rituals. Accordingly an old Assamese proverb goes as such “aw, aa porhibo najane, Ramayan porhibo aai, posola kharor juti najane, bhoz ranhibo jai” (this translates to something like this ‘you don’t even know how to read A B C and you are trying to read the Ramayana! Correspondingly, you don’t know the taste of posola and you want to cook a feast!’). Mother often used to say this.
In times past every family had banana trees, bamboos and a pond in their backyards. Some village and semi-urban homes still do. So any time one would want to have posola one would go, cut down a banana tree and cook posola khar. We are fortunate to have banana and bamboo trees at our backyard.
However, it is not so now. Most people go to the Sunday market looking for posola. In these markets the rural women sell their fresh homegrown vegetables and if you are lucky, you may find posola.
Posola Khar (Khar made from the edible part of the stem of a banana tree). Click here for recipe.
Omitar Khar (Raw Papaya Khar). Click here for recipe.
Matimahar Khar (Black lentil khar). Click here for recipe.