|Chicken & banana stem curry|
|The stem of M.bulbisiana locally known as Athiya or Bhim kol|
The outermost layers are dried and burnt and the ashes are gathered in a basket. A bit of water is added to the basket which filters down in a container placed below. This is the alkali or khari that I mention in my posts. It's also another essential ingredient in North-eastern cooking.
Peeling off the layers reminded me of the poem The Onion by Wyslawa Szymborska.
...inside it, there's a smaller one/ of undiminished worth/the second holds a third one/the third contains a fourth...
As the stem is cut into roundels you see the thread-like fibre that needs to be removed by winding them on your index finger. The process always makes me think about my grandmother, aunts and my mother spinning thread by hand. Called thakri-lu ba in my mother tongue, most women would be busy after the usual chores were done.
Banana stems are a rich source of potassium and Vitamin B6. It is also said to keep high blood pressure under control. It is also a diuretic and helps detoxify the body. It is said to have cooling properties which is helpful in our kind of heat and humidity.
The pieces here are thicker than the ones that go into making chutney. It's always good to have chunkier pieces for meat curries. And talking about meat, they team up very well with pork and duck too. The stem I used belong to M.bulbisiana but the varieties that are relished in my home district of Dima Hasao are locally known as laidi and laishremdi.
I have read about soaking the stems after they are cut, either in salt water or as they do in the southern parts of our country, in buttermilk. But I usually cook them after a wash as they are never left for long after the initial prepping. They do turn into a darker shade because of the high iron content.
500 grams chicken with skin, cut into regular pieces
2 cups of banana stems (shown in the picture above)
3-4 Indian bay leaves
2 large onions, coarsely grated
1" piece fresh ginger, ground
7-8 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped fine
A quarter tsp turmeric powder
A quarter tsp freshly-ground black pepper
5-6 green chillies, scored lengthwise
1 tsp red chilli powder (this will add colour)
(The heat will be just right as the curry is thickened with rice flour).
1 tsp coriander powder
1tsp cumin powder
3 heaped tbs rice flour
Salt to taste
3 tbs mustard oil
Serrated coriander for the garnish
(Using cumin and coriander powder is optional. The curry still works well without these ingredients. However I use the roasted and ground variety that I keep in small amounts for curried dishes).
Before cutting the chicken into pieces, it's best to use tongs and place it for a few minutes over an open flame. Keep turning so that all parts get the flame. This gets rid of the down and imparts a delicate smoky flavour to the curry. Then cut the meat into pieces and marinate with the ginger,garlic and the dry spices as you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
*Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan.
*When it comes to smoking point, add the bay leaves, green chillies and the onions.
*Fry till the onions are translucent and then add the meat.
*Cook on high flame stirring in between and keeping the pan covered with a lid.
*Season with salt and continue to cook for about 20-25 minutes.
*Add the banana stem pieces and stir well. If the curry threatens to catch at the bottom, add about a quarter cup of water.
*Test to see if the chicken is cooked through. The stems do not need much time. Adjust the seasoning.
*Add about 3 cups of water. That does sound like a lot but the rice flour will be added and the gravy will be thickened. (And it will thicken further when it cools down).
*When the curry comes together, add a bit of water to the rice flour and make a paste. Add this to the curry stirring gently all the while so that no lumps remain.
*Remove from the flame and transfer to a serving bowl. Garnish with chopped serrated coriander.
This curry goes best with rice.
~With the rice flour I usually make a paste. But my mother lets the flour flow in a steady drizzle with one hand and the other hand stirs the ladle so that no lumpy floury bits remain.
~The chutney that I make is with the addition of fermented fish. The stems can be eaten raw in chutney or in salad form.