Meghalaya Food: This Is Why Khasi Cuisine’s Ja Stem Is A Dish to Remember (Plus a Recipe)

Jastem

In my previous blog, I talked about healthy eating and how bits of spices help transform bland meals into gourmet ones.

Today I'd like to bring you a story about a special Meghalaya food offering that's simple to prepare but makes a grand meal by itself. This is Ja Stem — Khasi cuisine's popular, hunger-satiating, easy-on-the-tummy turmeric rice. It's basically vegetarian; light, nutritious, and utterly and fragrantly delicious!

So let's dive in!

What Makes Ja Stem

Ja Stem means yellow rice and turmeric is the chief ingredient from where the rice gets its appetising golden yellow colour and earthy fragrance. But unlike the more famous Meghalaya food offering, Jadoh, it's a meal you can have as many times as you need a fill. Because it's light in oil, it won't leave you with a bloated- after-a-meal feeling.

Turmeric rice's basic recipe is so simple. It takes just about the same time to prepare as plain rice. But eating it will leave you asking for more. Why? Because its spices will do their trick, infusing subtle fragrances that'll surely let you help yourself to a second plate. Now Ja Stem is Meghalaya's favourite anytime-rice-dish in office canteens and eating houses everywhere. You may pair it with any accompaniment, vegetarian or non-vegetarian. Not only will its taste bowl you over but its pleasant fragrance will linger in your memory long after you've had your meal.

Easy Essential Ingredients

These are the simple basic ingredients you need to make authentic Khasi Ja Stem: 

  • white rice
  • ginger-garlic paste
  • onions
  • bay leaves
  • a little oil salt to taste
  • turmeric – the most important ingredient

Now, cuisines are dynamic stuff, ever-evolving because of influences of trade, travel and contact. Still, so long as you keep these basic local ingredients on the list, you can go ahead, combine new ingredients and be an innovator. You'll enjoy a new taste experience and perhaps more nutrition too, but your new food creation will retain these authentic flavours.

The One Ingredient That Makes Ja Stem Unique

Turmeric. It's the soul of Ja Stem's unique flavour and taste. You can use any turmeric but I prefer using the high-curcumin Lakadong turmeric. Its aroma and zest have no equal anywhere in the world. Next are the bay leaves, ginger and the Khasi rocambole garlic. Read more on the ingredients below.

Why Lakadong Turmeric?

Lakadong Turmeric

Now, there's no turmeric like Lakadong turmeric in the whole world. Take it from us. With a high curcumin content of 7-12%, it beats every other turmeric variety. If you have never had Lakadong turmeric you cannot imagine how flavourful it makes your food creations. Whether in aroma, flavour or taste, no turmeric compares with the Lakadong variety. Lakadong turmeric has a distinctive difference compared to other turmeric varieties.

The Speciality of Meghalaya Food

Well, if Khasi cuisine's Ja Stem is a special Meghalaya food then what's special about Meghalaya food?

If you're looking for a gourmet spread, it hasn't much to offer and still has a long way to evolve.

But you'll want to eat Khasi food because it's wholesome, low in fat, oil, calories and high in nutrition and originality of taste.

  • The Ingredients — spices and vegetables are almost always naturally grown and free of chemicals. Nothing is mass-produced — small farmers grow them in small, easily-manageable family farms or homesteads fertilising only with green and farmyard manure. So, when you buy Meghalaya foodstuff, you are sure to get genuine, organic fare.
  • The cooking method is the slow kind — unhurried, uncomplicated, with no blasts of high heat and no blast-chilling. It's the same process whether they boil, broil, roast, smoke or braise. So, your food cooks in itself, retaining the juices of real flavour and nutrition.
  • In Khasi cuisine, the spices are minimal, but the food still tastes awesome, which proves one great fact: you don't need exotic ingredients to eat good food.

The bonus part is the freshness of ingredients and simplicity of preparation. Because the recipes are easy to prepare, the time it takes to rustle up a great meal is minimal.

How to Make Ja Stem at Home?

We made Ja Stem for lunch at home last Wednesday. It took us a little over an hour to create a little feast that made us forget we were in lockdown!

You too don't need great epicurean skills to try your hand at it. The method is far less complicated than lemon rice, tomato rice, biryani and others. But I can tell you it's a meal you won't forget in a jiffy, especially if you use Lakadong turmeric.

Here's a recipe for making the most sumptuous, aromatic and fluffy Ja Stem at home.

Note: We have added here some optional items. Likewise, you may add, for example, pulses, grams, vegetables, and more for a twist on taste or more nutrition.

Here's What You Need:

(Preparation time 15 minutes, cooking time 10 minutes, servings 8)

Jastem ingredients

Note: the optional items are extras for a new taste experience

  1. Rice – 4 cups. Any white rice will do, but Basmati rice will give more flavour
  2. Oil – three tablespoons white oil
  3. Bay leaves – 3-4
  4. Dried red chillies – 2 (optional)
  5. Lakadong turmeric powder – 1 teaspoon. If you use another turmeric, increase by another half to one teaspoon
  6. Onion – 1 medium, finely chopped
  7. Garlic (fine-chopped) – one teaspoon. If you get Khasi rocambole garlic, you'll get the best taste
  8. Ginger (fine-chopped) – one teaspoon
  9. Mustard seeds – half a teaspoon (optional)
  10. Cinnamon stick – 1 pinch (optional)
  11. Cardamom – 3 pods (optional)
  12. Salt – to taste
  13. Water – about 8 cups (hot)

Here's the Method:

  1. Wash the rice, drain and keep aside
  2. Heat the oil in a pan. (If using the electric rice cooker fry the ingredient over the stove and then transfer)
  3. Add mustard seeds, bay leaves, dried red chillies, cardamoms and cinnamon
  4. Allow the mustard seeds to splutter.
  5. Add the chopped onion and stir-fry till they turn translucent
  6. Add the ginger and garlic and stir-fry till the raw smell disappears
  7. Add the turmeric powder and continue stir-frying for about a minute
  8. Add the rice and mix thoroughly
  9. Add the water and salt

If you are cooking on a stove, bring to a boil and then leave on medium heat. If you are cooking in a rice cooker transfer it now and switch the knob to "cooking". Keep the lid on always.

After about 8 minutes, check the grains by pressing one or two of them between your thumb and forefinger. It should have become three-fourths cooked by this time, and you should be able to crush it. Add more water (about one cup) if necessary and leave it on the stove (or cooker) till done.

Serve hot with curry, vegetables, salads and condiments of your choice.

Accompaniments We Made With Ja Stem

1. Aromatic Dohsyiar Nei-iong

Chicken with black sesame seed curry

(Dohsyiar nei-iong — Chicken cooked in black sesame paste)

You can consider doh nei-iong – meat cooked in black sesame paste – as one favourite meat accompaniment. We chose chicken (doh syiar) but some people like pork best. You'll be surprised at the minimal spices that went into its making. There were only onion-ginger-garlic-turmeric, bay leaves and the main ingredient– roasted black sesame. The roasted black sesame makes all difference.

Even as you dry-roast the seeds on low heat, you'll sense a pleasing aroma wafting in the air. This is an insight into what flavours your meat will soak in. The aromas intensify as the oils ooze out when you grind them. Now you definitely know your dish will be a splendid one. Be sure to not over-roast the seeds as this will lend a bitter taste.

2. Crunchy Veggies

We did a double job all at once. Because we used an electric rice cooker, we could simultaneously steam some vegetables. There were cauliflower florets, beans, and diced carrots and potatoes. Those were the only vegetables we had, but you can use others of your choice. Remove the vegetables when they are half-cooked and then sauté in oil (butter is optional if you want more flavour).

You may sprinkle finely chopped coriander and toss. If you want options, use parsley, sage, rosemary, oregano or thyme.

Season with salt and coarsely ground pepper and enjoy great crunchy veggies.

3. Healthy Salads and Perilla Seeds

Khasi Perilla salad Muli Khleh

Fresh salads are a regular feature in Khasi cuisine, and you will often find more than one type. Roasted and ground perilla seeds (nei-lieh) is an all-time favourite tempering for the salads. When ground, the seeds give out heady and pleasing aromatic oils. Sprinkle them on the salad of your choice – cabbage, radish, cucumber, beans, or even banana flowers. Give it a thorough mix, and you now have a salad with a signature earthy zest that can only come from perilla.

If you want more pungency, throw in finely chopped onions, ginger juliennes and chopped green chillies.

Our salad was the fibre-rich muli neilieh, sliced radish with perilla seeds. You might also want to chomp on something crunchy. In that case, you can have a bunch of Jamyrdoh (chameleon plant) on the side. It's difficult to explain the taste of Jamyrdoh – it's sour, slightly bitter and metallic, all rolled into one. But it's got great medicinal properties, say scientists.

Vegetable Salads

Still, want more variety? Add a plate of standard slices of cucumber and beetroot, wedges of tomato, and bulbs of hooker's onions (jyllang).

4. Chutney of Choice

Mint garlic chutney

Every helping of ja stem cries for a dash of tangy chutney. There's nothing like mint-garlic chutney flavoured with the tang of lemon juice to counter any oiliness.

But if you're like me, you'll want some chillies on hand because a somewhat "tame" and not-so-spicy fare will not satisfy you. Follow my cue and keep some bird's eye chilli flakes on hand. These are deceptively fruity-flavoured but fiery to the core. We ground ours fresh from just-roasted dried berries. These flakes will give you that extra kick that'll make your homemade Ja Stem lunch an even more memorable affair.

You Are What You Eat

Jastem accompaniments

The rice gives you the carbohydrates your body needs for its energy. One serving (186 grams) will provide approximately:

  • 242 calories
  • 4.4 g proteins
  • 53.4 g carbs
  • 0.6 g fibre
  • 0.4 g fats
  • 58.5 mcg Vit A
  • 1 mg Vit B3 (niacin)
  • 4.5 mcg Folic acid

The little spices provide you with micro-nutrients, minerals and vitamins.

For example,

One tablespoon of Turmeric will supply you about:

  • 29 calories
  • 0.91 g protein
  • 0.31 g fats
  • 6.31 g carbs
  • 2.1 g fibre
  • 0.3 g sugar

As regards the minerals, from one tablespoon of turmeric you will approximately get:

    • Manganese - 26% of your body’s daily requirement
    • Iron - 16%
    • Potassium - 5%
    • Vitamin C - 3%
    • (
Source
    )

One tablespoon of Ginger provides:

    • 4.8 calories
    • 1.07 g carbs
    • 0.12 g fibre
    • 0.11 g protein
    • 0.05 g fats
    • 0.1 g sugar
    • Trace amounts of Vit B3 & B6, Iron, Potassium, Magnesium, Zinc & other minerals.
    • (
Source
    )

And Bay Leaf has these benefits:

  • Improves insulin function in Type II diabetes
  • Lowers risk of cardiovascular diseases
  • Aids digestion
  • Relieves common colds
  • Prevents food poisoning bacteria

Now you see how these little taste enhancers, the spices, give you nutritional and health benefits as well? And what if you want Ja Stem to be a complete stand-alone meal? Simple! Add some vegetables, even meats, of your choice. Or you can enjoy it with accompaniments like meat, vegetables and salads as we did.

How Zizira Takes the Story Forward

We hope you enjoyed our story on Ja Stem.

Why not try making Ja Stem yourself and let us know how it came out? You can even share a video with us. Maybe next time we'll offer you more Meghalaya food recipes.

At this point, you'll probably want to know where to get natural and authentic products from Meghalaya.

This is where we at Zizira can step in and assist you. We're friends with the very farmers who grow these products, and because of this friendship, we help them by buying their products.

Yes, directly from their fields. No contamination. No adulteration. Fresh, pure and natural.

So anytime you want authentic, natural and unadulterated products from Meghalaya, look it up on our online store and contact us if you have any questions.

Meanwhile, if you have any comments or queries, do get in touch with us. We'll be more than happy to talk to you.

Have a great feast!




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