Khar is a unique Assamese dish, traditionally served as a starter. Traditionally, pure khar uses kola khar as its main ingredient. Kola Khar is prepared by sun-drying the peels of the bheem khol banana tree trunk, burning them to ashes, and then filtering water through them. It is an alkaline preparation that is believed to have medicinal properties. The dish is served before the main meal to help prepare the digestion for the flavours to come in the main meal.
These days kola khar is often substituted with other items, usually baking soda. Khar can be made with a variety of ingredients – pulpy vegetables such as gourds, papaya, pumpkin, zucchini, eggplant and cucumber, as well as lentils and a variety of greens. Today we are using Mung Beans although toor dal and urad dal are also common. We have seen it made with rice flour and no lentils.
Mustard greens and some chilli leaves are used in our dish today, although Spinach would be equally as fine. I have added a couple of betel leaves, because they are in the fridge and they give a lovely flavour. However, there is no need to be so exotic. Use spinach and/or mustard greens, or whatever greens you have. The recipe has a lot of garlic in it which softens its raw bite due to the cooking and adds a lovely umami flavour. Don’t confuse this dish with Lebon Khar, which is a Middle Eastern dish of cucumber and sour cream or yoghurt with a vinegar and mustard dressing.
Khar | Assamese Garlicky Flavoured Mung Beans with Greens
200g whole green mung beans
3 Tblspn mustard oil
0.5 tspn panch phoron
4 – 6 cloves garlic, crushed (or to taste)
5 cm piece ginger root, grated
2 green chillies, sliced
0.5 tspn bicarb soda
1 bunch greens, shredded (spinach, mustard greens etc)
sea salt, to taste
Soak the mung beans after washing well for 2 – 4 hours or overnight. Drain.
Divide the ginger into half.
Heat 2 Tblspn mustard oil in a kadhai or large pan until hot, reduce the heat to low, then add the panch phoron. When the seeds turn golden, add the garlic, half the ginger and the chillies. Stir fry for a few minutes and bring the heat to medium.
Add the mung beans, mix well, then add the bicarb soda with 2 cups of water. Season with salt to taste and simmer for 15 minutes until the beans are tender.
Stir through the greens and cook for a further 5 mins until the greens are cooked, then stir through the remaining mustard oil and the remaining ginger.
Garnish with coriander leaves if desired, and serve with rice.