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Ayurvedic Kitchari Recipe

As you might have read in several of my previous posts, I've been studying Ayurveda for a good few years now and I've been enjoying applying its elements to my own life as well as sharing it with my clients and friends to help them regain balance in their life as well. Ayurveda is a very vast, over five-thousand-year-old lifestyle science that encompasses all areas of life, (not only food) and in my journey of delving deep into its ancient teachings I've been doing my best to learn and understand its intricacies as well as I possibly can in order to be able to adapt it to our 21-century life and a fully plant-based lifestyle. One day I hope to share with you some of the basics of Ayurveda, but for now I would like share my take on an ancient Ayurvedic recipe that comes in handy this time of the year. And that's a Kitchari.

I've heard people compare Kitchari to the Western chicken noodle soup, not because it looks or tastes similar, but because of what we've gotten used to associating it with. And that's the idea that when you're sick or not feeling too well people who care about you don't bring you pizza or casseroles, they bring you some soup. Something to give you enough energy to help your body get stronger, but in the same time something that won't overwhelm your digestive system. That's exactly what Kitchari it, except for, I believe it's much better than soup, because it actually does provide your body with what it needs when it's struggling, which is a little bit more than just a nutrient-dense liquid.


The traditional Ayurvedic Kitchari would be just 50% yellow split mung dal (beans) and 50% basmati rice cooked together along with appropriately selected spices and herbs- either truly tridoshic ones, meaning the ones that are good for everyone, or a blend created especially to tailor your personal imbalance.


People have used this kind of a meal as a form of a cleanse for thousands of years. It's been used as a seasonal cleanse, but also just a cleanse that purifies your body of some leftover toxins while not depriving it of the necessary fuel it needs to actually get rid of those toxins. It's also been used in instances when your body is a recovery mode or when it's fighting some kind of inflammation, a virus or bacteria and needs enough energy to do a good job at it, but cannot afford to focus too much on the digestive processes as its primary focus lies in the workings of the immune system. And a Kitchari is exactly that. Plus, a good mix of herbs and spices will act as medicine and give your body the boost it needs to heal well and fast.


There are a few things one needs to keep in mind when doing a Kitchari cleanse or even when having it just as a healing meal to aid in healing and recovery. The number one rule here would be to remember to slow down a little bit and allow your body some extra time to rest. If you want to have Kitchari because you're sick or in recovery then I hope it goes without saying that you need to take things easy. However, I know that many people want to embark on a cleanse to feel better without implementing the necessary lifestyle changes (at least for the duration of the cleanse), and that can sometimes lead to doing more harm than good. So if you're doing a Kitchari cleanse at the change of the seasons or just because you feel like it, I highly advise you to make sure to plan your days in a way that allows you the appropriate amount of downtime. In other words, make sure that during the days you're doing the cleanse you sleep enough and you don't exert yourself- you don't overwork, you don't engage in stressful situations or any kind of strenuous exercises. This applies to you even if you're used to more strenuous exercise on a daily basis; the cleanse time is one where these kind of exercises should be substituted with something a bit more restorative, for instance: instead of running, go for a walk, instead of a HIIT session do some Yin Yoga.


If you menstruate, you also shouldn't do a full-on cleanse during your period, though having Kachari, because you're not feeling well is absolutely okay.


You should also make sure you drink a lot of water during the day. In the cooler months have warm water that has been boiled, or if you prefer room-temperature, wait for it to cool down after it boils. Either way, make sure you don't drink cold water, (or any other cold drinks).


Another important part of the Kitchari cleanse is your diet before, during and after the cleanse. The general idea behind a healing Kitchari cleanse is to consume a portion of Kitchari for every meal of the day for a couple of days (3 days up to 7). However, in order to do this cleanse right you need to prepare for it about 7 days in advance and then give yourself another 7-day period for gradually coming back to your regular lifestyle afterwards. During those 7 days prior to the cleanse you should eliminate refined sugars, alcohol, processed food and junk food from your diet- none of which you should consume on a daily basis anyway, but here it would be even more important to really exclude them from your life for those 7 days before, during, and about 7 days after the cleanse as well.

If you're having Kitchari simply because you're sick then, again, I hope it also goes without saying that you should definitely stay clear of those kinds of foods during your healing and recovery period. That's because even if your intention isn't to do a cleanse, overwhelming your body with unnecessary junk will only hinder your healing and recovery process, and why would you make it any harder on yourself?


Good eating habits (that I generally recommend implementing in your daily life) also apply here. In short, those would be things like having larger lunches and smaller dinners, allowing appropierote amout of time in between meals, not dirnking too much liquids druing and around mealtimes, not eating late at night, having your last meal no less than about 3 hours before your bedtime.


There are also many other Ayurvedic practices that would be implemented as part of such cleanse, (for example: Abhyanga- self-massage, taking baths, supplementing with appropriate herbs and herbal teas and so on). That said, I can definitely recommend just a "milder" version of a Kitchari cleanse (slowing down, taking good care of yourself and having Kitchari for a day or two, or three) when you're not feeling well, whenever you feel like you're coming down with a cold or if you're already sick or even after a period of time when you engaged in a lot of digestive stress (eg the holidays and all the food that usually comes with them).


I've done it many times myself and it always leaves me feeling much better. But just like many people practicing Ayurveda nowadays, I like to tailor it to my own needs and the needs of people I serve it to and I therefore always end up making it with a bit more variety in terms of the ingredients I use than just the rice and beans. I also like to supplement it with some detoxifying yoga, but more on that another time.

(If you're interested in a full-on cleanse, I recommend you contact an Ayurvedic practitioner or at least someone who has enough knowledge to guide you through the whole process whenever you feel like you need it or, as recommended in Ayurveda, twice a year, in the spring and in the fall).


As you read on and you might be inspired to prepare a similar Kitchari for yourself or switch things up even more, especially if you know a bit about nutrition you might be tempted to do so and use other kinds of beans or legumes in place of the quite carb-heavy split mung beans, so before I go any further I would like to explain really quickly why in this particular case I wouldn't recommend switching up the split yellow mung dal for other kinds of beans.

You can certainly create a similar dish where you do use for instance chickpeas instead, but it won't be a Kitchari and it won't have the same soothing effect on your body, though it still might be nice and cleansing depending on your particular mind-body constitution. But in the case of a Kitchari it really is better to stick to yellow split mung dal, because they are the most easily digestible legumes. They shouldn't therefore cause any digestive issues that some people can experience after having other kinds of beans and in general they are easier on the stomach while still being a good source of fiber, protein and other nutrients.

So in this particular case I would stick to the yellow split mung dal. But don't worry there is plenty of room to mix and match when it comes to the veggies and even the grains.


Like I said, traditionally Kitchari is made with Basmati rice. And while that's certainly delicious, I sometimes find that I do need something a little more substantial so I usually go for 50% basmati rice and 50% quinoa.

This way the grains are still very gentle on my digestion but I'm upping the nutritional content and providing a little extra fiber.


When it comes to vegetables I recommend using whatever is currently in season with more focus on the easily digestible vegetables.

So for instance, if nightshades tend to cause you some problems (which they often do) I'd skip the bell peppers, if you don't do well with cruciferous vegetables, don't add in broccoli, cauliflower or brussel sprouts either. However, if you don't mind them and they don't cause you any discomfort, feel free to add them in, but in this particular case I would still keep them in the minority. I'd focus a bit more on root vegetables such as a sweet potato and celeriac, a little bit of a carrot, along with veggies like zucchini, leek, baby spinach. If pumpkins are in season feel free to use a lot of those, like I did here. If you're making a spring-cleanse Kitchari and asparagus is in season, throw that in as well. And so on. In the ingredient list you'll see specifically which veggies I typically use, and below you can see two photos of two times I've prepared Kitchari. In the first one I also added broccoli, the second one had some cauliflower.

So as you can see, my take on the Ayurvedic Kitchari involves increasing its fiber and nutrient content just a tad, (and with that improving its taste as well) by mixing up some grains and adding in some seasonal vegetables.

In terms of herbs and spices, I tend to stick to the traditional Ayurvedic recommendation slightly adjusted to the Western spice cupboard and I add in my favorite herbs de Provence as well, because, like I mentioned before, I basically add them into everything I make, but you're welcome to skip that.

I also use Tamari, (a gluten-free, low sodium soy sauce), even though a Traditional Kitchari wouldn't use that. I just find that a little bit of Tamari dramatically improves the taste of the whole thing;)


One more thing I wanted to add just in case you're like me and you're used to cooking without oil or with very little oil. I highly recommend using some oil in this particular recipe as in this case it is necessary for the good absorption of many of the very beneficial spices and it also aids digestion, so don't skip out on it this time please.

 

My Go-To Kitchari Recipe


Prep time: about 1 hour 15 min, BUT you should to soak the beans and the grains overnight first!

Yields: about 7-8 portions


Ingredients:


The base:

Beans:

  • 1 cup of Yellow Split Mung Dal (rinsed and soaked overnight!)

Grains:

  • 0.5 cup of Basmati rice (rinsed and soaked overnight!)

  • 0.5 cup of white Quinoa (rinsed and soaked overnight!)

Spices, herbs, oil, seasoning:

  • 2-3 tsp coconut oil (extra virgin, unrefined)

  • 1 tsp cumin seeds

  • 2 tsp mustard seeds

  • 2 tsp turmeric (powdered, not fresh)

  • 1 tsp fennel seeds

  • 1 tsp ground cumin

  • 1/4-1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

  • pinch of salt

  • 1" piece of fresh ginger, minced

  • optional: 1-1.5 Tbsp Tamari

  • optional: 1 tsp herbs de Provence

Vegetables:

(approximate the quantities, feel free to just eyeball it here, I'm listing them in order of the biggest volume to the smallest, because the exact amounts in grams or cups aren't as important here)

Use seasonal vegetables.

When I make it in the spring I use some asparagus too, when it's fall, I go heavy on the pumpkin instead.

  • big butternut squash - about 1/4

  • zucchini - about 1/2

  • broccoli and/or cauliflower florets - 2-3 cups

  • big sweet potato - about 1/2

  • baby spinach - about 2 fistfuls

  • celeriac - about 1/8

  • leek - about 2/3 cup

  • carrot - about 1/2


Note: You will not find onion or garlic in a Kitchari and there is a reason for that. It has to do with the qualities those two have on our body and our mind- they're not unhealthy, but since a Kitchari is a "recovery dish", you don't want to strain your digestive system unnecessarily here. If you need that extra heat from the garlic, just add a bit more ginger, if you absolutely love onions, use the white parts of the leek and add them into the pan right when the spices are done and before the grains and beans, it will serve as a kind of an onion then. I know it's not the same, but it's better than an onion in the case of a healing Kitchari.


Method:


Note: Kitchari is traditionally a one-pot dish. If you have a Dutch oven kind of a pot, or one with a bottom that you can first use as a frying pan then use that and really make it a one-pot. If you don't have that, you can do what I do and start the process on a large frying pan and then move into a large pot.


  • Step 1 - Rinse and soak the beans and the grains overnight (at least 8 hours).

  • Step 2- Prepare the veggies: cut the butternut squash, sweet potato, zucchini, celeriac and carrot into small pieces, cubes or whatever works for you, just make sure that they are more or less similar in size. Slice the leek. Separate the broccoli head into florets, cut up the stem into small pieces, if using. Mince the ginger- if your ginger isn't organic, peel the skin off first.

  • Step 3 - Rinse the soaked beans and grains.

  • Step 4 - Boil about 1.5 liters (6-7 cups) of water.

  • Step 5 - With a large frying pan on a medium to high heat, add in the coconut oil. Once it's liquified add in all of the herbs and spices except for the minced garlic. Mix well and cover the pan with a lid. Listen for the popping sound of the mustard seeds.

  • Step 6 - Once they start to pop it's time to add in the minced garlic along with the leek and mix them with everything.

  • Step 7 - Turn down the heat a little, to medium heat, and add in soaked beans. Mix everything well and add in the grains. Mix everything well again. Cover the pan with a lid for a minute or so. If you find that the beans and grains start to stick to the pan, add in a little bit of water and cover the pan.

  • Step 8 - If you haven't been using a pot, now is the time to add in about 2 cups of hot water and transfer everything from the frying pan to that pot on a medium heat. Make sure you get all the spices and any potential residue that you can see on the pan into the pot as well- you can rinse it into the pot with a little more water.

  • Step 9 - Add in the pumpkin and the root vegetables first. And mix everything well.

  • Step 10 - Add in the remaining hot water, stir the pot, and bring to boil.

  • Step 11 - Add in the remaining vegetables (except for the baby spinach). Stir everything well and cover the pot with a lid. Bring to boil.

  • Step 12 - Turn down the heat and leave the pot to simmer for about 40-50 minutes, checking on it every once in a while to stir everything and scrape down the bottom of the pot to make sure nothing is sticking to it. After about 30 minutes add in the baby spinach, stir everything again, cover and leave simmering for another 10-20 minutes (the remaining of the 40-50 min). During this time if at any moment it looks like there isn't enough water in the pot, add in a little extra. The consistency of the Kitchary, in the end, should be something along the lines of rice porridge, but before you let the water boil away everything needs to be immersed in it in order to cook properly, so make sure there is enough water for that throughout the whole cooking time. If, after about 40 minutes, it looks like there is still way too much water for the porridge-like consistency, then take the lid off and let it boil away while stirring to avoid burning to the bottom of the pot.

  • Step 13 - See the photos in this post for what the final product should look like, if after 40-50 minutes yours looks similar it's done and ready to serve.

  • Step 14 - Sprinkle it with some fresh cilantro or if that's not your cup of tea (it's definitely not mine, no matter how good for us it is) use some parsley instead- it's also a mighty beneficial herb:)

  • Enjoy warm!

Traditionally in Ayurvedic cuisine you are always supposed to eat freshly cooked meals, but I know that's not very realistic for most of us nowadays, so I suggest making a big batch of it once and then have it for a couple of days- keep it in the fridge and warm up only the amount you'll be having at that time. And of course, if you are able to cook it from scratch every single day, then good for you and by all means, please do so. Just adjust the quantities of ingredients appropriately.


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