Kitchari: Ancient Recipe for Modern Life
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” ― Hippocrates
Winter weather, changing seasons, holidays, politics… what doesn’t create flux and a little chaos in our lives right now? It’s important to remember, whatever is cluttering our minds presently can also have an effect on our bodies. The gastrointestinal tract is especially susceptible to our stress levels and actually plays a role in our mental health.
When we get stressed we signal the release of stress hormones and increase immune system activity. If this happens chronically, we can end up with inflammation in the body which wreaks havoc on our gut flora. This can become a vicious cycle since, if the gut flora is compromised, we can get invading species of bacteria or a general imbalance of gut flora. If this happens, the invading species can upregulate the production and release of those same stress hormones and keep the immune system in high alert… you see where I am going? Gut flora imbalances have been linked to a myriad of mental health concerns such as ADHD and depression.1
Without bogging you down with the dense, and sometimes boring details of healthy gut science, one thing is for sure… if you are going through stressful periods in life, changing your diet, binge eating on junk food either because of stress or just circumstances like the holidays, it’s a good idea to let the GI (gastrointestinal) tract rest. Systems of medicine and oral traditions from all over the world tout the many health benefits of intermittent fasting, for example. If fasting sounds too extreme or just hard to accommodate in your busy life, I have a great alternative… Kitchari!
Kitchari, pronounced “Ki-chur-ee,” Sanskrit for “mixture,” comes from Ayurveda, the sister science of yoga that deals with keeping the body healthy. Ayurveda understands the body’s constitution as a dynamic play between the elements – fire, water, earth, air, space. The whole premise of this ancient medical theory is that the body is whole and healthy so long as it’s elemental constitution, dosha, stays in balance. The use of good diet, especially the use of herbs, right exercise, meditation, and good breathing can restore balance and ward off disease. 2
Kitchari is a stable in an Ayurvedic diet because it is naturally detoxifying, balancing to the elements, nourishing, and easy to digest. The herbs help balance the doshas (constitution) and encourage the body’s natural detoxification. Mung beans also help the body eliminate toxins and are full of protein. The basmati rice is often parboiled meaning that it has been “pre-cooked” in a way that keeps all of it’s nutrition intact but makes it easier to digest. This recipe is often used as a cleansing practice when the seasons or illness call for it. 3
The following recipe is a personal favorite and easy to prepare. To optimize the healthfulness of this dish, use as many organic ingredients as possible.
1 cup mung beans
½ cup Basmati rice
1 inch ginger root, chopped or grated
¼ tsp. mineral salt
2 tsp. ghee, clarified butter, or coconut oil
½ tsp. coriander powder
½ tsp. cumin powder
1 tsp. whole cumin seeds
½ tsp. mustard seeds
1 tsp. turmeric powder
1 pinch asafoetida (hing)
Handful fresh cilantro leaves
1 -2 cups assorted seasonal vegetables (optional), chopped
1. Wash and soak the beans for 4 hours or overnight.
2. Wash and drain the rice.
3. Heat the ghee in a large sauce pan until it shimmers.
4. Add the spices, sauté for a couple minutes.
5. When the seeds start popping, add the rice, beans, and 4-6 cups water. Bring to a boil.
6. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for 20-30 minutes.
7. If adding vegetables, add then to the pan half way into the cook time. May need to add more water; may need to cook a little longer. The end result should be like a thick stew.
8. Serve with fresh, chopped cilantro as a garnish and liquid aminos if more salt in desired.
9. Indulge and Enjoy!
Veggies such as zucchini, squash, sweet potato, or asparagus make a great addition to this recipe. Also, if the spice mixture seems a little exotic or hard to come by, you can buy an amazing, organic kitchari spice mix through Banyan Botanicals. I hope you enjoy this nourishing simple dish as much as I do! Be well!
Sources: 1. Perlmutter, David, and Kristin Loberg. Brain Maker: the power of gut microbes to heal and protect your brain--for life. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2015. 2. Lad, Vasant. Ayurveda: the science of self-healing: a practical guide. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1994. 3. Morningstar, Amanda. Ayurvedic Cooking for Westerners. Wisconsin: Lotus Press, 1995.