Assamese Winter Cuisine Permeates With Xewali Phool
Image Credit: A basket full of Xewali Phool, Shutterstock

Picture a morning waking up to misty surroundings, the courtyard blanketed with beautiful white flowers and an intense yet slowly fading fragrance literally stimulating all your sensory organs. Next, you watch the women and kids of the family picking up those flowers to prepare a delightful lunch spread. Welcome to Assam; it is a characteristic sight during the colder months of the year in this state. An ideal Assamese winter meal is impossible to imagine without a dish made of xewali phool. These flowers are visual treats and make anyone spell-bind with their captivating aroma. For the unversed xewali phool is night jasmine, a delicacy in Assam's culinary fare.

The bloom of flavours

Night jasmine flowers, Image Source: krishangiisaikia@Instagram

The flower, known as shiuli in Bengali and parijat in Hindi, is a staple in Assamese homes. The flower blooms in late October, around Durga Puja. Xewali phool is a delicacy in Assam that honours its aesthetic beauty. Winter lunches in many Assamese households are incomplete without this flower. Similarly, dried xewali is an essential cooking ingredient. When the weather gets too chilly, and veggies become scarce, these blossoms come in handy to prepare a simple stir-fry. It is a constituent of a variety of dishes. There are numerous health advantages associated with both the bloom and its greens. Despite having a bitter taste, it is good for the gut and is said to aid with digestion.

Xewali and Assamese cooking

Fish and Xewali phool, Image Source: sumus_food_gallery@Instagram

The blossoms are pretty delicate. Thus, picking must be done with care. The same applies to cleaning. The delicate petals might be damaged by rough handling. Xewali is typically prepared in fish curries or as a stir fry with veggies and fish heads. Pairing xewali with items like sweet potato helps balance the bitter taste. Boras or fritters are another favourite and simple dish that uses these flowers. Its leaves are deep-fried after being coated in a batter of gramme flour, water, turmeric, and salt.

For many Assamese families, a typical winter breakfast consists of boiled rice blended with xewali flowers, oil, and salt. Fried onions and chillies are occasionally added. This meal is thought to boost immunity and prevent the emergence of seasonal flu. The flower is also used as a natural food colouring as an alternative to more expensive saffron, and it is frequently used in home-cooked pulaos.

Storage and preservation

When the xewali is in season, it is frequently gathered in large quantities, sun-dried all winter, and stored in tight containers for usage throughout the year. They are employed to accent the distinctive Khar.