Kitchari is Ayurveda’s perfect food, indicated in times of recovery as well as cleansing. Kitchari can even be the centerpiece of a mono-diet or fast, as it is a simple food that supplements the healing process. As with Grandma’s chicken soup, there are as many ways to make kitchari as there are reasons to consume it. Typical modifications include vegetables such as carrots, greens, zucchini, or potatoes. Spices like cumin, cinnamon, or black pepper can be included, as well as even toasted nuts or coconut. Technically, a kitchari is any dish combining rice and legumes. Traditional kitcharies use mung beans, available at most Asian food stores, because they are an easiest legume to digest.
Basic Kitchari Recipe
- 2-3 TBS ghee (clarified butter)
- 1 tsp black mustard seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 small pinch of asafoetida (“hing”) powder
- 1 cup split yellow mung dal, rinsed well, soaked overnight and drained. (It is best to use mung dal with the hulls still on if you tend toward constipation).
- 1 tsp rock salt
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 cup white basmati rice, rinsed well and drained. Or quinoa
- 4 cups water if using a pressure cooker or about 6 cups if using a regular pot.
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 4-5 thin slices of fresh ginger root
How to Prepare
Using either a pressure cooker (much faster) or a heavy-bottomed pot, heat the ghee on medium heat. Ghee burns easily, so be careful. Saute the mustard seeds and cumin seeds in the ghee until the seeds pop. Then add the drained mung dal, asafoetida powder, turmeric and salt. Stir until the mix almost starts to stick to the bottom of the pan. Then add the rice, water, cumin powder, coriander powder and ginger. Stir well, making sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pressure cooker or pot.
If you are using a pressure cooker, fasten the lid on and turn the heat to high, let full pressure build up. Once the pressure has built up, turn the heat low and let cook five minutes. Then take the cooker off the heat and let it sit until there is no more pressure and you can safely open the lid.
If you’re using a regular pot, cover and bring it to a boil on high heat. Then turn the heat down and let it simmer until both the rice and dahl are mushy.
You may have to experiment with how much water you use to find a consistency that you like. (The more water, the thinner the consistency). A thinner consistency is preferable if your digestion is weak. You will notice that kitchari will thicken when it cools and you may need more water than you originally thought.
In order to provide the best quality of energy to your body, Kitchari should be made the day that you wish to eat it and served hot.
- Fresh cilantro (great for pitta – ok for vata and kapha)
- Coconut (great for pitta, good for vata, but not so good for kapha)
- Lime (ok for everybody)
The Virtues of Kitchari
Kitchari, pronounced kich-ah-ree and sometimes spelled khichadi or khichdi, has long been used to nourish babies and the elderly, the sick, and the healthy during special times of detox, cleansing, and deep spiritual practice.
A simple, porridge-like blend of beans and rice, kitchari is often referred to as the Indian comfort food. But perhaps contrary to the western idea of comfort food or even health food, kitchari has many nourishing and cleansing benefits.
The term kitchari is used to describe any dish made with a mixture of rice and beans. For the traditional, cleansing kitchari, split yellow mung beans were used along with a long grain white or basmati rice, and a blend of traditional Indian spices. Let’s take a look at the constituents of kitchari on their own before we talk about how to blend them together.
Why White Basmati Rice?
During a cleanse, long-grain white rice may be preferable for ease of digestion.
The first question you might ask is, why white rice? During a cleanse, the metabolism slows down and the digestive strength weakens, so any food eaten must be very easy to digest.
For kitchari, white rice is used because the husk has been milled off to make the rice easier to digest. While brown rice may be used – and will actually supply more nutrients – the husk makes brown rice much harder to digest. During cleansing, a time of already compromised digestion, this can irritate the intestinal wall and cause digestive gas or abdominal pain.
Traditionally, farmers would bring their rice to the miller and have the rice de-husked based on their needs. If someone was sick, elderly, or there was a baby in the house, all of the husk would come off, making white rice for the ease of digestion. Brown rice was used only if digestive strength was optimal or when funds were short, as it was expensive to have the rice prepared and de-husked.
Typically, long grain white rice was used over short grain rice because it was believed to be more nutritious. Even without the husk, it was considered a more stable food than short grain rice. Now, studies have shown that long grain white rice has a lower glycemic index than short grain rice.
Why Split Yellow Mung Beans?
According to Ayurveda, split yellow mung beans are the one type of beans or lentils that will not produce gas.
To be called kitchari, the rice has to be cooked with a legume. Traditionally, that legume was split yellow mung dahl beans. These are the only legumes that are classified as “vata balancing” in Ayurveda. This means that, unlike every other type of beans or lentils, they will not produce any intestinal gas.
Split yellow mung beans also have their husk naturally removed. When they are split, the husk, which is very hard to digest and gas producing, naturally falls off. This process naturally renders them much easier to cook, digest, and assimilate.
A Perfect Protein
The combination of rice and beans has been a staple around the world for 10,000 years, and for good reason. You have probably heard the term complete protein, but let’s take a minute to really understand what that means.
There are 20 amino acids that combine with one another to make the proteins the body needs. Ten of them, the body can synthesize on its own. The other ten, called essential amino acids, the body does not make, meaning we must get it from our foods. Animal proteins are “complete” in that they contain all ten essential amino acids, but plant foods need to be combined to make a complete protein.
Rice, like most grains, is very low in the amino acid lysine. As a result, if you live on grains alone, you will likely become protein deficient. Legumes and lentils, on the other hand, have lots of lysine, but they are generally low in methionine, tryptophan and cystine. Fortunately, grains are high in these three amino acids.
So the marriage of rice and beans, as found in kitchari, has been providing the ten essential amino acids and making complete proteins for cultures around the world for thousands of years. For cultures that have subsisted on a plant-based diet, this marriage is often what allows their diet to be nutritionally sustainable.
Kitchari for Cleansing
During a cleanse, it is essential to have adequate protein to keep the blood sugar stable and the body burning fat.
One of the most common reasons folks have trouble with cleansing is due to unstable blood sugars made worse by the detox process. During a fast, for example, you are asked to drink only water, juice or veggies. For many, this type of austere fasting can be a strain and deplete blood sugar reserves. Then folks get really hungry, irritable, and end up with a low blood sugar headache or crash. While the goal of a fast is to shift the body into fat metabolism and detox the fat cells, this will not happen if the body is under stress and strain as a result of a difficult fast.
Here’s the basic equation:
- Stress = Fat storing
- No Stress = Fat burning
If you are attempting to detox heavy metals, preservatives, chemicals, pesticides and environmental toxins from your fat cells with a cleanse, make sure that you are not straining, or the amount of fat burned will be minimal.
Kitchari provides nourishment in the form of a complete protein that will keep the blood sugars stable during a cleanse. Otherwise, ironically, the body may react to the cleanse as a fat-storing emergency!
The goal of any effective cleanse should be to convince the body and the cells that life is not an emergency and that it is okay to burn that stored fat and release toxins. During a kitchari cleanse, you are eating this complete protein three meals a day, so there is no starvation response whatsoever. In fact, if you are straining or hungry you are not getting the optimal benefits. The more comfortable you are the more fat you will burn.
Kitchari to Heal the Gut
In India, kitchari is often the first food for babies, not only because it is so easy to digest, it also heals and soothes the intestinal wall.
With 95 percent of the body’s serotonin produced in the gut, it is clear we process our stress through the intestinal wall. Chronic stress will irritate the intestinal wall and compromise digestion, the ability to detoxify through the gut, and cope with stress. During a kitchari cleanse, the digestive system can heal. Eating just kitchari as a “mono diet” allows much of the digestion to be at rest during the cleanse, providing the nutrition needed to heal the gut and nourish the body.
Spiritual Practice and Deep Inner Calm
Having adequate protein to maintain blood sugar stability during a cleanse can facilitate feelings of inner peace and calm.
The state of fat metabolism facilitates a deep inner calm, making it the natural state for spiritual inquiry and practice. For this reason, kitchari was also fed to monks and ascetics to help create a sense of stillness in which we gain greater access to old toxic emotional and behavior patterns. This is also why kitchari is the food of choice of Panchakarma, Ayurveda’s deepest detox retreat.
Cleanse Your Body
If your belly feels sluggish after too many treats, Kitchari is an easy way to cleanse your digestion and restore freshness.
Kitchari offers a true delight to both your body and senses. It is a heart warming synergy of beans, basmati rice, and digestive spices that is easy to prepare. This time tested formula, centuries old, is a complete protein, rich in fiber, cleansing to the digestive tract, and will act to bulk up stool for easier elimination.
To maximize the many benefits your will receive from kitchari, eat it for several meals in a row, such as lunch and dinner on the same day. Once you experience the benefits of kitchari, you’ll see how feeling good again is just a few steps away. It just may become addictive! Those who avoid beans because of digestive difficulties should use mung beans or even green beans, which are easier to digest than chick peas.
Invigorate Your Metabolism
Spices are the difference between a tasty meal and a bland one, and also the difference between healthy and poor circulation. A well-spiced dish can stimulate your circulation, invigorate your metabolism, and clear out toxins. In this recipe, cloves open up your pores and enhance blood flow to the skin, reducing puffiness and lymphatic congestion. Ginger stimulates the heart. Cinnamon warms your metabolism. Reach for these spices with enthusiasm, but remember: Too much spice is harsh and can leave a burning feeling the intestines. Be aware of your body’s reaction to spices. Those with ulcers or inflammation will not benefit from too many spices, but it is helpful for those with sluggish digestion.