The Dimasa Khari

Khari made of eggplant, beans, tomatoes and a bunch of amaranth
The other day my brother dropped by on his way from home. Home is the town of Haflong where I grew up and where my mother and most of my family/relations live. It’s a good three hundred and fifty kms from where I live here in Guwahati. After so many years of being married and living away from  my hometown, my mother’s gifts of home-made pickles and garden-fresh vegetables are always more than welcome. However the 7-hour journey by car did not fare well for the mulberries picked the day before. Other things to look forward to when somebody comes from home is the produce available in small wayside markets near small villages. The bonus came in the form of tender banana flowers, the freshest of ash gourd, sweet, ripe bananas and tender drumsticks.
Smoked pork
But the star of the goodies was the smoked pork that my mom sent. I love using this ingredient in my cooking. Tastes great whether fried on its own or with vegetables, made into a curry or khari. So I made urud dal or split black lentils with smoked pork  Khari is made using fermented fish and alkali (the water that you get after filtration of ashes from a wood-fire).  In this case the “wood” happens to be dried banana stems, the dried plant of the black lentil after the pulses are removed, and different species of bamboo. 
In the above photo the basket on the right is used for the filtration of ashes. Known as “shingjor” or “khari-kho”, it’s a common backyard sight in Dimasa households particularly in the villages. Some ash is placed in the conical basket and very little water is poured in it. Because of the small opening at the end of the cone, only drops of filtered water come out. These droplets fall into a container which is later stored in bottles.
Filtered water from the ashes with alkaline properties and fermented fish
Fermented fish is available in the markets in our region. To make fermented fish, species like dried puthi/Puntius chola or Swamp barb is mixed with salt and kept in bamboo hollows sealed with dried banana leaf and mud. Another way of making this type of fermented fish is by adding torn and shredded lemon leaves, fish fat, freshly grated turmeric, and salt before sealing the mixture in bamboo. The sealed bamboo is kept in a cool and dry place. In both cases, the seal is removed after 30-45 days. The fermented fish is now ready to be used in our spicy and pungent chutneys, known in Dimasa as naplam shaphinyaba/brengyaba or in khari.
Naplam comes with a statutory warning…it’s an acquired taste!!!
Known as Bahanda this herb is from the Basil family

Khari made of unripe papaya and colocasia
Bahanda/Ocimum basilicum is extensively used as a garnish in our dishes. The smell is pungent but without this herb, many of our khari dishes will not be complete.
Khlimbra, another plant from the Basil family
A little stronger than bahanda, this herb in the picture above is also used as a garnish and also made into chutney.
Gala hon/Khari made of bitter gourd and rice flour

                                              Dal Khari 
Although we love having lentils the regular way as in dal/chawal or dal/roti, we also love having dal in khari form.This is the basic dal khari. Dal is also a good substitute for hon which is ground rice flour, a key ingredient in many of our dishes. The taste is not similar but it produces the thickness that enhances the taste of the vegetables cooked in them. Bamboo shoot, okra, beans, bitter gourd (shown in the photo above), and leafy vegetables like lai/Brassica juncea can either be cooked in dal or with the addition of rice flour (hon). Smoked meat and dried fish like Bombay duck can also be added to this type of dish.
Masur dal, about 150 grams
Chillies, about 10 (slit but not de-seeded)
Fermented fish/Naplam  about 3
 Herbs for garnish
Soda bicarbonate OR khari (alkali)
Salt to taste
Wash the lentils and boil in a pan with water. When the dal is about half done, add the chillies and salt. Let it cook further. Add two tablespoons of alkali or a quarter teaspoon of soda bicarb, whichever you are using. Then add naplam.  When it becomes a homogenous mix remove from the fire. The dal should not be too watery.Garnish with the herbs of your choice or a few crushed cloves of garlic. No oil is used in this preparation.
Bahanda is the most popular herb for garnishing but serrated coriander or coriander leaves come close.

Shbai-hah khari with smoked pork

Urud dal or shbai-hah/Vigna mungo is  a heavier dish, so smoked meat and fish rather than vegetables taste better with it. Some families like to add drumstick leaves to this khari. Generally it’s cooked on its own but the taste can also be spiced up with smoked meat. The cooler months are when it’s a pleasure to work with fire and smoke to create and re-create these timeless dishes. And instead of khari, it can also be made the regular way with a tadka of onions, chillies, Indian bay leaves, and tomatoes. In this version also, chunks of smoked meat or fried pieces of dried fish can be added.

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