After living and studying yoga in Southern India, I realized the amazing wealth of healing foods from the Ayurvedic tradition. Khitchari is a staple dish for new mothers, convalescence, and those working to strengthen their digestion.
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
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.
Kapha (For heavier set constitutions, or those who run cold)
Pitta (For muscular types, and those who run hot)
Vata ( For thin constitutions, who have trouble gaining weight, or feel ungrounded easily)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.
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.