Amitar khar- an Assamese favourite made with unripe papayas

by Sunita on July 29, 2009

The ‘khar‘ is a dish which is probably unique to the state of Assam. A traditional Assamese meal always begins with a ‘khar’ with some rice.It is believed that khar cleanses the stomach.

The prepared dish is called khar and so is the main ingredient that goes into it. The ingredient is made by drying and burning the skins of banana( to get the ashes), preferably a variety called bheem kol ( I don’t know the English name for these bananas, but they are quite big, full of seeds and have a very thick skin). Water is then filtered through the ashes.This water is called kola or kol khar ( kol= banana) and is then added to the main ingredients, which may vary from raw papayas to bottle gourd to rice to fish to lentils . In the absence of the traditionally made khar from banana skins, baking soda is the generally accepted substitute ( which makes me quite glad, actually).

I haven’t made khar for ages now. When we picked up a fresh and tender unripe papaya the other day (after a loooong time), both Dinesh and I exclaimed at the same time with a twinkle in our eyes- amitar khar ( papaya khar)!!

This is such a simple, humble dish, but it is undoubtedly a dish that the entire race of Assamese is prepared to be represented by  - khar khowa asomiya ( khar eating Assamese) as we call ourselves. References to it in sentences, especially outside Assam like  ”I met a khar”, ”How many khars turned up?” , ”Are there any khars nearby?” are quite common!

Now , after all that you must be waiting for the recipe ( I was actually surprised that i had not posted this recipe before), and it follows. Of course, I was not fortunate enough to use the actual kola khar and made do with baking soda. As I said earlier, this is the generally accepted substitute and does not affect the taste. I have seen my ma use baking soda most of the time to make the dish.  Just rememeber not to add too much soda or it leaves an unpleasant after taste on the palate.

What’s needed-

1 medium sized unripe papaya, halved vertically, sliced, the seeds scooped, and cut into small and thin pieces ( ours yielded about 3 and 3/4 C)

2 green chillies, the stalks removed and slit halfway from the bottom
3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
salt to taste
1/2 tsp paas puron
1 bay leaf
1 whole red chilli, halved
2 tblsp + 1 tblsp mustard oil ( can be found in Indian grocery stores)

How to-

  1. Heat the 2 tblsp of mustard oil in a pan and add the paas puron, bay leaf and red chilli halves.
  2. When the seeds splutter, add the papaya, green chillies, salt  and soda. Stir well, reduce the heat to low,cover and cook for about10-12 minutes or till the papaya slices soften and lose their shape. Keep stirring in between.
  3. Raise the heat and stir so that the excess water, if any, evaporates.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in the remaining 1 tblsp of mustard oil.
  5. Serve hot with some plain rice and dal.

Notes-

  • The raw papaya should also be quite tender.
  • Rinse the papaya several times in plenty of clean water after slicing.
  • Mustard oil is an absolute must in this dish. Khar is not ”khar ” without mustard oil.
  • Khar is usually not eaten with sour dishes.
  • Like any other recipe there may be slightly individual variations of this recipe; this is how my ma made it and what I’ve grown up eating.

We had ours with some plain rice, dal and a mixed vegetable.

Dinesh and I went silent and savoured every precious mouthful. Mix a little khar with some rice and a little dal…yum! The kids relished it to, but of course, the sentiment was missing ( no fault of theirs ). But yes, we did enjoy the meal indeed!

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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

1 pavithra July 29, 2009 at 4:09 pm

wow looks so good and tempting nice click as usual

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2 Mishmash! July 29, 2009 at 5:02 pm

yes, it sounds quite unique and interesting too ….I mean the process……..

So…now I know a ‘khar’ atleast in the virtual world , right :P just kidding..:)

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3 mandira July 29, 2009 at 5:53 pm

Sunita, I love the sound and look of this.. looks fantastic. I have to go and find some raw papayas this weekend.

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4 Rosa July 29, 2009 at 6:10 pm

An interesting dish! I bet it tastes great! I’ve only eaten green papaya in salads…

Cheers,

Rosa

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5 Soma July 29, 2009 at 9:47 pm

Sunita, I learned everything New today from this post, the concept/idea/recipe. Does the soda add anything to the taste itself? I cannot even imagine for I cannot think of any kind of recipe (esp. this regular type) that uses soda.

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6 Sunita July 29, 2009 at 10:20 pm

Soma,we are all learning something new all the time…doesn’t it make blogging all the more fascinating?

As for the taste, well, we absolutely love it. There is a slight heat from the chillies and a certain sweetness. Give it a try, you’ll love it too :-)

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7 kalva July 30, 2009 at 2:18 am

never cooked with papaya. looks great

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8 Khaugiri July 30, 2009 at 3:30 am

Wow sounds GR8!!!! Will try it soon.

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9 bindiya July 30, 2009 at 4:15 am

This is so new Sunita, very unusual but sure looks great!

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10 prathibha July 30, 2009 at 4:30 am

Never heard something like this..looks yummy

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11 Nirmala July 30, 2009 at 4:33 am

Looks very different. Sunita I would request you sometime in the future for that banana ashes version. Its completely fascinating.

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12 Sunita July 30, 2009 at 6:22 am

Maybe when I go to India :-)

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13 pragyan July 30, 2009 at 5:08 am

Wow..such a unique recipe, Sunita! Any recipe that calls for mustard oil is bound to be great! Have been trying to save every drop of my mustard oil supply to last till my India trip in December..guess will have to let go and try this recipe! Thanks for sharing.

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14 Sudeshna July 30, 2009 at 5:21 am

Hi Sunita,

Thats a really nice recipe. In Bengal we also cook something similar to this but thats with grated papaya, and is a little spicier than this. I didn’t get what the soda will do to the recipe?

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15 Sunita July 30, 2009 at 6:14 am

The soda breaks down the papaya and gives it that soft texture and also that unique taste…you’ve got to try it :-)

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16 CurryLeaf July 30, 2009 at 5:52 am

Very new to me.The papaya should be very tender for the dish to attain this texture.Soda addition makes it more intriguing.Love the post Sunita.Some dishes are associated with the days lost but most cherished and not just for their taste.Dishes which we grow up with always leave a mark on us known or unknown to us.

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17 Rupa Sengupta July 31, 2009 at 12:27 am

Hi Sunita !
wow … this looks really yummy. I absolutely love dishes made of raw papays and one of my childhood favourites used to be “pephe sheedoo , bhaat, daal ” . aaah … miss those days. simple but soul – satisfying food.

~ Rupa

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18 Aparna July 31, 2009 at 3:22 pm

I’ve never seen papaya cooked this way. Shall try it soon, as I have an almost never ending supply of papayas here, straight from the tree.
Are those bananas you’re refrring to plantains? Or a smaller variety – shorter but a bit plump?

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19 Sunita July 31, 2009 at 5:10 pm

Do give it a try, Aparna. And you’re so lucky to have the never ending supply of papayas….ieach one that we find here is so precious for us ( and costs an arm and a leg too)

And no, they are not plantains. They are quite plump, sweet and have lots of seeds in them.

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20 nags August 6, 2009 at 9:56 am

my mom has a papaya tree and she makes a palya with raw papayas. this one seems like a good variation, so will pass it on. for once the flow of info will be daughter to mom :)

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21 Shravani August 14, 2009 at 10:35 pm

Hi Sunita,

I came to your website looking for a khar recipe. Although I’m a khar-khowa, never made khar myself, for years relied on friends in NJ kharkhowa community to eat khar once in a while!! Maa-ye bonuwa kharor nisinai hoise, prai :-) Keep up the good work.

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22 Kannan August 18, 2009 at 3:36 am

A very good recipe.

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23 Gahori October 6, 2009 at 5:41 am

Really great blog. I was wondering, isn’t it good to fry a few garlic cloves with the papaya? I always do that with the khar I make and it turns out pretty fine.

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24 Sunita October 6, 2009 at 11:53 am

Thanks and glad you like this blog.

I adore garlic, but never add it to khar; I’m sure it will be fine if I did. But, as I’ve mentioned in my post,this recipe is just the way my ma made it, which I grew up eating, and it makes me think of home. And yes, what makes cooking so interesting are all those individual variations of the basic recipe.

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25 Y November 11, 2009 at 11:55 am

How unusual and very delicious looking! I would never have thought of using green papaya in this way (usually it goes into salads).

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26 shayma February 9, 2010 at 12:28 pm

i love learning more about cuisine from your part of the world- i laughed when you called yourself khar khowa asomiya :) it looks like a wonderful dish- and lentils and rice to go with? gorgeous.

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27 Sunita February 10, 2010 at 1:02 am

Shayma, we do really call ourselves that ;-) Yes, this is a very popular dish from our part of the world.

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28 Thas March 7, 2010 at 3:54 am

This is such an easy and interesting recipe with raw papaya. It’s hard to find raw papayas at my place though. If ever I come across one, I wouldn’t let go and will try this recipe. Thanks for sharing!

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29 Pranjal February 5, 2012 at 4:13 am

Thank you. Nice site

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30 Panchalee Phookan February 25, 2012 at 4:26 pm

Hi Sunita,

Absolutely loved your website. I was yet to find authentic assamese dishes on any recipe site when I toppled upon your website.

Great going.

Cheers
Panchalee

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31 eatpassionately March 12, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Well done with the blog Sunita! I loved your section on Assamese cuisine. I was directed to your website via google searching for Assamese food blogs. And I am glad I came by. I have only recently started blogging (mainly recipes and life rants) :) and I do contemplate doing up a section on Assamese food. Hoping to be in touch… TC

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32 Priyanka February 21, 2013 at 11:49 am

Sunita, I bought raw papaya today and I had some khar, but I couldn’t get my mom on the line for the recipe! You saved the day… :) I made awesome amitar khar!

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33 Sunita February 22, 2013 at 11:27 am

Priyanka, glad to be of help :-)

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34 Sanjukta June 18, 2016 at 4:40 am

We bongs make the same dish and I think call it papar ghonto. Add grated coconut sometimes. This post brought back memories of gorom bhat, musoor dal and this dish…. kacha lonka and gondho lebu

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