How to Make Kitchari – an Ayurvedic Healing Meal
8 July 2016 | 3 comments
I love exploring all elements of Ayurvedic healing, particularly the recipes. There are a lot of gems to be gleaned from this traditional wisdom – in fact, Ayurveda philosophy dates back as far as 5,000 years or more. I’ve been on a plant based diet for close to ten years now, and know may way around Indian cuisine fairly well, as it really is a vegetarian’s delight – but my curiosity into Ayurvedic cooking is more recent.
Today I’m sharing a little about one of their staple healing or convalescing dishes, Kitchari. I used to make various versions of this years ago, while I was exploring food as medicine for treating my gut dysfunction. It hasn’t made an appearance on my kitchen table for a very long while, but with free time in between studies and a partner bundled up on the couch with a chronic case of man flu, it seemed fitting to experiment once again.
The recipe at the end of this post is based on a classic Kitchari according to my books on Ayurvedic cooking and medicine. I’ve just adjusted the spices to my liking and used a bit of homemade vegetable broth and kombu to cook with.Kitchari – the classic one pot Ayurvedic detox dish, balancing for all doshas. Find it here. Click To Tweet
Kitchari means mixture, and is a one pot meal of lentils and rice, traditionally made with a little ghee (clarified butter) and spices. I don’t believe any garlic or onion are used traditionally, as they are stimulating. Similarly, I think the addition of vegetables to this simple mixture may be a more recent thing.
This comforting meal is the classic Ayurvedic dish. It is simple and easy to digest, a complete source of protein (as it combines legumes with grains), and given to people who are ill or recovering from illness. In fact, it is often taken as a fast, where a person will consume only kitchari for a number of days, to aid in the clearance of toxins (ama) and strengthen their digestive fire (agni). This simple meal is also given therapeutically as part of panchakarma – Ayurveda’s ancient mind-body, cleansing and rejuvenation practice to strengthen the digestive and immune systems, restoring balance and wellbeing.
Kitchari is good for all constitutions – described as vata, pitta and kapha. A slight tweak of the spices is all that’s needed to tailor it to your own body’s needs.
I personally find it like one big warm hug in a bowl, it’s instantly warming, grounding and soothing.
Kitchari – Key Ingredients
Split yellow mung beans
These lentils are from whole (green) mung beans that have been split, during which the husks are removed, revealing the lighter, yellow split mung beans . The removal of the husks greatly improves digestibility. They are thought to be the only lentil not to produce intestinal gas. They are also soaked well in advance of making the dish, which further adds to the digestibility.
Lentils in general are a fabulous source of dietary fibre and folic acid. They also include a variety of minerals in good amounts, such as copper, phosphorus, manganese, iron, zinc and potassium. They are a particularly good source of vitamins B1 and B6 .
White basmati rice
Like the split mung beans, white basmati rice has been hulled and so is easier on the digestive system.
Split yellow mung beans and white basmati make a complete protein
Proteins in the body are made up of combinations of 20 amino acids, nine of which are essential, meaning they must be provided through the diet . There are 11 non-essential amino acids, which the body can easily make itself, though some of these are conditional, meaning, they become essential under certain circumstances – usually when the body is stressed or sick.
Animal protein sources are complete, whilst plant foods are incomplete. However, you can combine various plant foods together to create a complete protein, and in fact, this has intuitively been the case for many cultures around the world – for example – beans and rice in Mexico, bean stews with bread in Africa, pasta with beans in Italy, and lentils with rice in India.
Lentils and other pulses are a good source of lysine though lack methionine and the conditional essential amino acid, cysteine. Grains are the perfect complement as they lack lysine though offer methionine and cysteine.
Asafoetida (often called hing) is an incredibly stinky spice. However, its pungent, sulphuric smell luckily subsides upon cooking. Many refer to it as ‘devil’s dung’ because of this. It is the powdered form of an oleo gum resin obtained from the rhizome and root of a tree native to the Middle East [4, 5].
A staple in Indian cuisine, asafoetida is widely used as a digestive aid. When paired with typically gas-producing foods such as beans, lentils and cruciferous vegetables, it has an antispasmodic and carminative effect – making them far more tolerable.
According to some Ayurvedic texts, this spice and medicine is classed as a ‘restorer of consciousness’. It is a common traditional remedy for a variety of ailments, including digestive disorders and excess wind. It is used as a nervine stimulant and sedative, and as an expectorant for respiratory conditions .
It is sold in powder form, compounded with rice or wheat flour and gum arabic. I find that keeping the small jar of asafoetida within a larger airtight container helps prevent the smell from overpowering my pantry – it really is that stinky! You only need just a pinch in cooking, even if you’re making a large one pot meal such as kitchari.
Ghee is clarified butter. The butter is cooked until the liquids (water and milk solids) separate from the butterfat, meaning the end product does not contain any casein or lactose – making it available for those with intolerances to both. I’m sure the ghee would add a creamy, buttery taste, but personally I prefer to use a little coconut oil instead.
Other common spices used are cumin, coriander, fennel, ginger and turmeric. These spices are typically calming to the digestive tract.
My own little twist on the classic recipe
I have used a little black mustard seeds as they’re warming and good for my constitution (vata). You can tailor the spice mix to suit your own needs – however coriander, cumin, turmeric and fennel are considered tridoshic spices (beneficial for vata, pitta and kapha).
I added a stick of kombu (seaweed) to the pot while cooking to sneak some extra minerals in there – just discard it once cooked. I also used homemade vegetable broth in place of water, for extra flavour. I saw a lovely idea over at Banyan Botanicals where they served the meal with fresh lime, coriander and coconut – I tried this myself and it was just delicious.
Finally, I went for a 50/50 blend of lentils and white rice, but you can adjust this to your taste. White basmati rice can be substituted for other whole grains such as quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth. Add more water if you want a lighter consistency than what I have used here.
How to make Kitchari – an Ayurvedic healing meal
- ½ cup split yellow mung beans
- ½ cup white basmati rice
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 1 inch stick of kombu
- 4 cups homemade vegetable stock or water
- 2 tablespoons coconut cream
- 1½ teaspoons cumin seeds
- 1½ teaspoons fennel seeds
- 1½ teaspoons coriander powder
- 1 tablespoon ginger root freshly minced
- ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
- ½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
- ¼ teaspoon black mustard seeds
- Pinch of asafoetida
- 2 cups of any mixed vegetables I used butternut, green beans and cauliflower
- Fresh lime
- Fresh coriander
- Coconut yoghurt
- Sea salt to taste
The night before (24 hours earlier), soak mung beans in ample filtered water.
When you’re ready to cook, drain the mung beans and rinse under running water. Place rice in a sieve and rinse till the water runs clear. Prepare vegetables by peeling and chopping them up, then set all of this aside.
Heat coconut oil over medium heat, in a heavy-bottomed pot. Add cumin, fennel, fenugreek and black mustard seeds and cook for a few minutes to release aromatics, and until the mustard seeds have popped. Add the rest of the spices and stir to combine.
Add a cup of vegetable stock, followed by mung beans, kombu, coconut cream, rice and vegetables, then add the rest of the stock (or water).
Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce to a low heat. Simmer for about 40 minutes. Check the pot periodically as the rice swells and may stick to the bottom. Add more water if you want a soupier consistency, and simmer longer to get a thicker stew.
Serve with fresh coriander chopped and folded through, a drizzle of fresh lime juice, spoon of coconut yoghurt and sea salt to taste.
Stick to three vegetables for this recipe - the simpler the combination the easier on the digestive system.
Vatas are better for the oil and coconut cream, and ample warming spices
Pittas are better for coconut and coriander, and less of the heating spices (mustard, ginger, excess turmeric)
Kaphas are better for less oil or coconut cream, and more beans
Finally – a few people shared on my instagram page that they had tried and loved kitchari, and found it helpful with acid reflux and upset tummy. Have you tried it? Was it soothing or helpful for you? I’d love to know…
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WHITNEY, E., ROLFES, S., CROWE, T., CAMERON-SMITH, D., WALSH, A. (2014). Understanding nutrition. Australia and New Zealand edition (2ND ED.). MELBOURNE, VICTORIA: CENGAGE LEARNING
AGGARWAL, B.B., & YOST, D. (2011). Healing spices: How to use 50 everyday and exotic spices to boost health and beat disease. NY, USA: STERLING PUBLISHING
MAHENDRA, P., & BISHT, S. (2012). Ferula asafetida: TRADITIONAL USES AND PHARMACOLOGICAL ACTIVITY. Pharmacognosy Review, 6(12), 141-146. DOI: 10.4103/0973-7847.99948