An Assamese Winter Feast
Winter rings a bell in Assam. By now, there is a nip in the air as winter spells a magical wave across the village dotted with homes made of mud or brick and mortar. It is a moment of pride for the farmer, who shows off his lush golden paddy fields calling out loud to get harvested along with his kitchen garden brimming with a huge variety of vegetables – lai xaak (broad mustard greens), horihoh (mustard), dhoniya (coriander), phool kobi among others.
After a lullness in his bhoral, a house to store paddy, the farmer rebuilds it, checks for any repairs while the lady of the house wipes the floor and walls with cow dung and mud paste. Even the dulis or the huge cane drums get equal treatment and wiped clean with the organic paste. These are then left to dry in the sun before storing the paddy.
The golden paddy shining bright in the fields is now ready to be cultivated. Once the paddy is harvested, the dhan or rice with husks is dried in the sun for three to four days and then pounded in a nearby rice mill. The husks are cleaned, dusted and separated from the rice grains. Nothing goes waste, not even the husks. It is stored away to be fed to cows, duck and fish as it is supposed to be the best fodder for them. As a practice, notun saul or cleaned new rice has to be consumed and shared with the community. This feast is known as Na-Khuwa Bhooj or the The New / First Harvest Feast.
With winter already set in, the kitchen garden is in full bloom with endless green leafy vegetables and herbs. The cold climate also makes it ideal to consume pork, duck meat, goosemeat and pigeon to keep themselves warm. The meats are generally bought from one of the villagers who would have reared to sell in the village market.
Today, I am sharing one of the most popular dishes eaten during Na-Khuwa in our village. The dish is known as gahori lai xaak or pork with broad leaf mustard greens. Interestingly, the mustard greens used here are not the small leafy ones popularly known as sarson or horihoh in Assamese. It is essential to use the broad leaf mustard greens because it lends a unique taste and flavour to the dish, taking it to a different level altogether. I prefer to call this dish ‘A match made in heaven’! Cook it and you will know why.
Recipe for Gahori Lai Xaak
1 kg pork, equal amounts of fat and flesh (pressure cooked)
Big-sized onion, chopped
2 tsp ginger-garlic paste
2 tomatoes, chopped
5 green chillies or half bhut jolokia
1. Heat oil in a kadhai and fry the onions. Now add the ginger-garlic paste.
2. Add the boiled pork and fry for 5 minutes. Put salt and turmeric.
3. When the meat releases fat, throw in the green chillies and tomatoes. Mix well.
4. Cover with a lid and let it simmer for 5 minutes.
5. Now add the lai xaak as it is (no chopping required). Cover and cook till the leaves are done or till it blends with pork fat. Dry water if any.
6. Serve hot with natun saul or bhaat (new paddy rice), plain dal, fish curry and a spicy chutney.