Nourishing Kitchari

Posted on March 4th, 2014 by in Ayurveda, Nutrition

kitchariBy Sarajean Rudman

Kitchari, traditionally made of yellow mung dal and basmati rice, along with digestive spices and ghee, is used as a cleansing and detoxifying food in Ayurveda. This may be a little hard for us to wrap our Western minds around, as we hear more and more about grains being inflammatory and bad for us. But there is Ayurvedic wisdom to support kitchari’s healing properties.

In Ayurveda, proper digestion is paramount to proper health and wellness. If we’re not digesting, assimilating, and eliminating our food properly, disease can set in. Kitchari is offered as a mono-nutrient fast in Ayurveda, giving our digestive systems a much-needed break from having to digest all different kinds of food day in and day out. It’s cleansing in the sense that it allows the digestive system to rest, and it’s also nutritious and easily assimilated by the tissues.

Mung dal beans, one of the two main ingredients, are high in protein and carbohydrates, offering satiety and energy. Protein is important for keeping the blood sugar, and therefore the mood, stable. Basmati rice is easy for the body to digest, allowing the system to work with ease. The spice “churna,” or mixture, sparks our agni, or digestive fire. The ghee (or oil) lubricates the system and further aids in digestion. You can add seasonal vegetables to the recipe to give variety and to boost the vitamin and mineral content.

Kitchari travels well—put it in a thermos and bring it to work for a healthy lunch, or, if you make a big pot of it, use it the next day for breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner.

Here’s how to make the perfect kitchari, with vegan and gluten-free variations as well as options for all three doshas: vata (air and ether), pitta (fire and water) and kapha (earth and water).

Basic Kitchari Recipe

2 cups yellow mung dal beans

1 cup white basmati rice

2 tablespoons ghee or organic sesame oil

2 teaspoons each black mustard seeds, cumin seeds, turmeric powder, and black pepper

1 teaspoon each cumin powder, coriander powder, fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds (cinnamon optional in winter)

3 green cardamom pods

2 cloves

2 bay leaves

2–5 cups of chopped, organic, seasonal vegetables such as spinach, carrots, celery, kale, and bok choy (avoid nightshades)

1 cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

Rinse the mung dal beans and strain them five times, or until the water runs clear. Heat the ghee or oil in a large pot. Add all the seeds and toast until the mustard seeds pop. Add the bay leaves and powdered spices, and mix together.  Stir in the rice and beans. Add 8 cups of water, cloves, bay leaves, cardamom pods, and chopped vegetables. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook at least one hour, until the beans and rice are soft and the kitchari has a porridge-like consistency. Serve warm with fresh cilantro on top, if desired.

Variations
Kapha

Omit the oil or ghee and instead soften the spices by cooking in two inches of water before adding the rice and dal.

Use quinoa, millet, or amaranth instead of rice.

Add about ½ inch of chopped, fresh ginger to the oil when cooking the spices.

Add a pinch of cayenne pepper while cooking.

Use half the amount of ghee or oil.

Best veggies for a kapha variation are leafy greens, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, asparagus, and celery.

Pitta

Use half the amount of mustard seeds and black pepper, or omit mustard seeds altogether.

Replace ghee with coconut oil.

Best veggies for a pitta variation are leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, zucchini, and carrots.

Vata

Use twice the amount of ghee or oil.

Add a pinch of cayenne pepper while cooking.

Add about ½ inch of chopped, fresh ginger to the oil when cooking the spices.

Use quinoa instead of rice to increase the protein content.

Use double the amount of rice.

Best veggies for a vata variation are carrots, zucchini, peas, sweet potatoes, and asparagus.

Vegan

Use oil rather than ghee.

Grain-free

Omit the rice and instead chop half a head of cauliflower in a food processor until it reaches the consistency of rice. Toast the mixture in a pan, in 1 tablespoon of ghee or sesame oil. Add after the mung dal beans have cooked.

Use 2 cups less water.

Alternative Grains

Use quinoa, amaranth, or millet instead of rice for the base.

If you’re new to some of the ingredients in this recipe, ask your local natural grocer to help you locate them. The spices and grains are typically sold in the bulk section and/or prepackaged; the mung dal beans and ghee (clarified butter) can usually be found in the “international foods” aisle.

For a mini-detox, eat kitchari for all of your meals for a day or two—or simply enjoy it as a delicious part of a healthy, whole-foods diet.

Sarajean Rudman is a yoga teacher and the Kripalu School of Ayurveda Intern.

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