Apart from garnering cinematic interest, Nagaland’s most savoured ingredient, akhuni has had the food circuit buzzing with excitement. Notably, the Sema tribe in the southern part of the state is credited for the origins of the dish. An integral part of many tribal communities, akhuni or fermented soybean is known for its distinctive flavour and smell. Boiled, fermented, packed in banana leaves and smoked over the kitchen fire for several days, the process lends a strong umami flavour to the beans. As much an ingredient, akhuni also doubles as a condiment and is used to make pickles, chutneys and curries. Best paired with smoked pork, it’s often used along with vegetables to prepare a stew.
Snighdha Hajong’s recipe for Naga-style smoked pork with akhuni
>) Add 2 tbsp of akhuni paste*, 12 red chillies and 3 cups of water to a pan
>) Stir and let it boil on medium flame
>) Uncover the pan after 10 minutes and scoop out the red chillies
>) Pound it into a paste and add it back to the pan along with 500 gms of smoked pork
>) Add salt and give it a stir
>) Cover the pan again and let it cook for 30 minutes
>) Keep stirring it continually
>) Separately, grind 2 inches of ginger and 10-12 garlic pods into a fine paste
>) Add it to the pork and let it cook for some more time
>) Once the gravy thickens, serve it over hot steamed rice
* In the absence of a fireplace, soybean cakes can be fermented under the sun.
Akhuni Paste: The flavour of akhuni has a striking resemblace to japanese miso
Pressure cook dried soybean seeds and wrap them in banana leaves. Place above the fireplace and let the packages ferment for four days. Pound this smoked soybean slightly. Wrap it in fresh banana leaves again and leave it for two more days. the finished soybean cake or akhuni can be added to several dishes to enhance the flavour.