Recipe: Kitchari Comfort Food

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I’ve been trying to figure out how to get more sea vegetables into our diet as they are a good source of iodine. This is kombu, a type of kelp. The brand I bought, Maine Coast Sea Vegetables, is organic, harvested from the Northern Atlantic.



All of a sudden kitchari appeared. We had never heard of it before and then it was everywhere. A staple, Ayurvedic comfort food, kitchari, also called khichdi, is used to ease the stomach and cleanse the intestinal tract. Lucky for us it came into our world just as we were about to embark on a week-long cleanse. It turns out, kitchari is a perfect way to re-enter the land of the eating after a fast – it’s easy to digest and helps the body rid itself of toxins. On top of that, it’s super simple to make, which is key when you are all woozy and lightheaded. One blogger wrote: “If you can make oatmeal, you can make kitchari.” Which is… almost true.

The recipe below is the easiest method I’ve seen. It’s based mainly on How To Cook Kitchari by Kate Lumsden that JC found in the ever insightful Elephant Journal. Before you begin, read the whole recipe through and take note of the Tips section below the directions. I’ve also added some tips in the photo captions! Most importantly, this is one of those recipes where it really helps to have all of the ingredients prepped before you start cooking. I’ve tried to group the ingredients as they are used in the process to make it easier. Enjoy!

But, before we get to the goods, a few words on the fascinating world of kitchari…

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Like their brethren, mung beans should be soaked overnight before cooking.

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TIP: After the mung beans are done soaking, strain them and retain the soaking water. There are nutrients in the water that are best used in your kitchari or in different dish!

There are endless variations of kitchari. The most basic recipes call for rice, mung beans, ghee, and water. Other recipes call for spices – cumin, coriander, turmeric, fennel, mustard seed and astfoedia (hing)- along with seasonal veggies, ginger, kombu (seaweed), sesame seeds and coconut, which was unexpectedly awesome.

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I chose a rainbow of ingredients, but your kitchari can incorporate as many or as few as you like .

The main benefit of kitchari is that’s very easy to digest, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. It is also, as with most rice and bean combinations, a complete protein, meaning that it contains all 20 amino acids the body needs. Mung beans which are a key ingredient are used to draw toxins – chemicals, pesticides and herbicides – out of the body. Turmeric, which features prominently in most of the kitchari recipes I saw, is known for it’s anti-inflammatory properties as well as its ability to help the body fight cancer, lower cholesterol, maintain an ideal body weight, maximize immunity, and defeat diabetes. What else do you need?!? In fact, turmeric has become so popular that many vitamin companies offer it in pill form. I love Banyan Botanicals Turmeric. If you want to add burdock root, you can help cleanse the liver. As for the vegetables, you can use anything really, however, if you want to pack in the vitamins, minerals and fiber, choose dark green vegetables. And if you want stick to Ayurvedic principles, choose vegetables that are in season. If you know your dosha or Ayurvedic mind-body type, there are some tweaks you can make which are noted at the very bottom.

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TIP: Turmeric, the Wonder Root, is often what gives mustard its bright yellow color. Be careful when you use it though – anything porous will turn yellow including clothes, wooden spoons, some metal utensils and some dishware.

I also found some proponents of a kitchari cleanse, where you just eat basic kitchari breakfast, lunch and dinner for several days. Theoretically, by just eating basic kitchari (without the ghee or oil) your body is getting protein with very little fat and will switch into fat burning mode. Which is exactly what you want when you are cleansing, as toxins are stored in your fat. The theory goes that when the fat cells break down, toxins are released into the body. And that’s when you want to flush – mainly with lots of water, but you can also use fiber and special ingredients like mung beans, Bentonite clay and the semi-controversial zeolite to carry those toxins out of the body before they are reabsorbed. (WARNING: Do NOT use clay or zeolite without professional guidance or some serious research! Both can be harmful if used improperly.)

Traditionally, kitchari is used to help transition into a new season, in the Spring or Fall. I haven’t done that yet, but both JC and I loved it and eating kitchari three times a day sounds way better than subsisting on water and herbal tea. We’re definitely going that route the next time we cleanse. I can’t wait for my colon to thank me!

Kitchari

(Makes 6-10 large portions, depending on how many veggies you add)

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TIP: I recently tried using a potato peeler to remove the skin from ginger and it’s so much easier! Duh, why didn’t I ever try that before?!?!

1 cup mung beans, soaked overnight and strained (very important!)

1 cup high quality basmati rice or long grain brown rice

1 tbsp ghee (clarified butter) or coconut oil

1 scant tbsp fennel seeds

1 tbsp cumin – seeds or ground
1 tbsp fresh or ground turmeric
1 tbsp mustard seeds

2 inches of fresh ginger, diced
1 tbsp coriander – seeds or ground
4-5 cups water

2 tbsp sesame seeds – black are preferred
¼-1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

0-4 cups of seasonal vegetables, cut into bite sized pieces (carrots, kale, zucchini, Swiss chard, butternut squash, spinach, cauliflower, peas, etc)
½-1 cup seaweed or kelp

1/2 – 1 tsp high quality sea salt

fresh cilantro
lime wedges

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Get spicy – In a medium to large pot, heat ghee over medium heat. Once ghee has melted, add spices except ginger and coriander. Stir the spices and let them heat up, about 1-2 minutes. You should be able to smell the seed aromas leaping out of the pot but be careful not to burn them. Add rice and beans and stir so that all are well covered in spices. When rice / beans begin sticking to the sides of the pot, add ginger, water and coriander. Cover and bring to boil. Then turn the heat down to a quick simmer. Stir and set timer for 15 minutes.

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TIP: When I prep the spices, I group them in little dishes to make things easier. They smell so amazing toasting in the melted ghee!

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Uncooked mung beans and rice colored with turmeric and spices.

2. Get Toasty (Optional step – if you aren’t doing this step, just add the coconut and sesame seeds with the water and ginger) – In a small pan, heat sesame seeds until starting to brown then mix in coconut. Once coconut starts to brown, stir into the pot.

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TIP: When toasting the sesame seeds and rice you should see a slight sheen on the sesame seeds, this shows that the seeds are beginning to release their oils.

3. Get Green – Chop the seaweed/kelp and any vegetables you will be using in the kitchari. Pieces should be about ½-1 in but I like them larger. Once again, these should be the best of what’s in season. I like vegetables crunchy, so I add them at the end. However, if you are using anything starchy like yams, winter squash or potatoes, add them as soon as possible.

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TIP: Starchy vegetables should go into the pot sooner as they need more time to cook than things like kale and broccoli. I put my yams in right after the ginger.

4. Check in- When the timer goes off, make sure that the rice and beans don’t need more water. If it’s not looking like a wet porridge then add more water. Set the timer for another 10 minutes.

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TIP: Some people say to cook rice and kitchari with the lid tightly on the pot. Others think you should crack it a bit. After this last batch, I think cracking works better, but I love this photo and I guess I just couldn’t pass up a chance to be contrary – ask JC!

5. When the timer goes off, stir and then check to see if the beans and rice are done. At least 5 beans should be tender. If not, let it cook some more. If it looks dry, add a bit more water and replace the lid. If it looks watery, remove the cover to let the water cook off. (Every time I have made this, it takes almost an hour to fully cook.)

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TIP: If you want to maintain a high comfort food factor, don’t use more than three cups of veggies. I used more than five cups the last time and grumpy bears came to dinner!

6. Add Veggies – Once rice and beans are cooked, add vegetables and mix well. Add more water if necessary, then cover and allow vegetables to cook to finish the dish; this shouldn’t take more than five minutes or so, if you like a little crunch in your veg. If not, you can always add them sooner or cook everything a bit longer. For optimum health benefits, veggies should be bright green/yellow/red. Stir in the salt. Taste. Add a bit more if necessary.

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As soon as Mattie hears a chop on the cutting board or gets a whiff of fresh carrot, she comes running. Boomer isn’t so hip yet, but he’s learning.

7. Serve – Spoon kitchari into a dish and sprinkle with fresh lime juice and chopped cilantro. This is also very good with an extra little dollop of ghee, chutney or Indian pickle.

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TIP: Don’t skimp on the ghee! Stir it in with the lime juice and cilantro and prepare for YUM!

TIPS

  • Split yellow mung beans are the easiest to digest, so if you can find them, great. If not, the green ones will do just as well.
  • Long grain rice is easier to digest than short grain, so try to find high quality long grain rice. I always prefer brown to white as it’s more nutritious but many of the recipes I saw called for Basmati, which is a long grain, aromatic white rice that you find at Indian restaurants. You can also soak the rice overnight if you like.
  • I like things spicy so I used a lot of spices, but if you like things milder or are having irritable tummy issues, I would cut all of them in half (except the turmeric) to start. You can always add more spice later on.
  • Additionally, I find the flavors are more intense when I use the seed form of the spices as opposed to the ground. But don’t worry if you don’t have all the spices. It’s ok to work with what you’ve got. Except the turmeric, I wouldn’t skimp on the Wonder Root! Some health food stores have started carrying fresh turmeric root. If you can find it, use it! I would prepare it and add it to the pot just like the ginger but cut the portion in half to start.
  • This recipe makes quite a few servings. I froze what we didn’t eat right away and reheated leftovers in a saucepan with a little water and it turned out great! It’ a wonderful side dish for grilled chicken, curry or to complete an Indian menu. I also ate this for breakfast for several days following too much indulgence at the Super Bowl party and I really I think it did the trick!
  • This recipe is very forgiving. Play around with it. Add cinnamon and raisins. Add garlic or onions (although, in Ayurveda, onions are kind of a no-no.) Add more veggies, add less. You might even try to different toppers like tempeh, avocado or even a fried egg.
  • To make a heartier dish, add ½ cup of split red lentils and/or replace some of the water with veggie or chicken stock.
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Broccoli tip: The stem of the broccoli is almost as nutritious as the florets. There’s no need to toss it out! Slice the woody end off and then chop the rest into pieces for stir frys, salads, and your next batch of kitchari! If you chop into matchsticks, you can even use it in slaw.

Dosha Notes

For Vata: Can add more ghee to top. Could add pinch of hing (asafetida) to melted ghee at start.

For Pitta : Remove the mustard seeds.

For Kapha : Reduce coconut. Can add any other more pungent spices like 1/2 t of fenugreek or a sprinkling of garam masala to taste to bring more heat.

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Mung beans, gorgeous and nutritious! Who knew?!

About Anastasia King Jaress

Anastasia is a former media producer who hit the road to sustainability in April 2013 with her husband JC and Mattie, the dog. She writes about food, community, sustainability, travel, family and the myriad questions that boggle them.

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2 Responses to Recipe: Kitchari Comfort Food

  1. Ryan Juodikis February 19, 2014 at 6:09 PM #

    I’ve had some mung beans lyin around. Maybe I’ll do this to them. Btw, I sent JC an email in response to his comment on the Maine post. Not sure if he got it or if it landed in his spam folder.

  2. Andrea April 29, 2015 at 5:56 PM #

    Thanks for sharing this great recipe, I followed it today and made a delicious kitcheri! Also happy to have found your site and to follow your adventures. All the best on this next chapter of your lives!

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