According to Ayurveda, digestion is the cornerstone of health and immunity. In brief, food is medicine. Kitchari is ‘medicine.’ It is a mixture of mung beans, basmati white rice, cooked seasonal vegetables, a plethora of spices, and ghee, or another healthy vegan fat such as coconut oil or sesame oil. Unlike many other cleanses and fasts, the regular intake of Kitchari allows the body to flush out the toxins while simultaneously providing enough nutrients to avoid extreme weakness and depletion. It was originally served to babies, the sick, and the elderly, but has now become a staple in Ayurveda for just about everyone thanks to its healing qualities.
WHY IS KITCHARI SO HEALTHY?
This traditional Indian dish, often referred to as “the chicken soup of India” is the foundation of every Ayurvedic cleanse and contains numerous health benefits:
Think back to a time when your grandmother or mother prepared some homemade chicken soup for you when we were feeling under the weather. Can you remember how that warming and nourishing dish, prepared with so much love, helped heal the body, soothe digestion, and comfort the soul? Think of kitchari as the eastern version of that same nourishing dish. Eastern, western, the same concepts apply; when we nourish ourselves with foods that allow the digestive system to rest and recover, our bodies are able to expend more energy towards healing the liver, cleansing the blood and releasing deeply-rooted toxins from the physical body.
The “comfort food” connection of chicken soup, or in this case, kitchari, is also beneficial on an emotional level, since it helps to relax, ground, and cleanse the mind. The true benefits of a kitchari cleanse is that it gives you the time to reset your digestion, to check in with what or how you’ve been eating, and to reevaluate the poor habits that may have become habitual over the course of weeks or months, or even years. A detox or cleanse, whether it’s a kitchari cleanse or another type, has the potential to help you break ingrained habits and give you a fresh start, as well as a fresh mindset!
WHAT ARE THE MAIN INGREDIENTS IN KITCHARI?
Ghee, or clarified butter, is a staple in Ayurvedic cooking. It is rich in antioxidants and vitamins such as A, E, and D. Ghee increases our digestive fire (agni) which aids in digestion, increases metabolism, and improves absorption and assimilation. Ghee is rich in fat however, it contains high concentrations of monounsaturated Omega-3s which support a healthy heart and cardiovascular system.
Moong dahl are the small yellow lentils found inside the green mung bean. They stimulate the release of toxins with their anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and alkalizing qualities. They work wonders on eliminating and stabilizing digestive imbalances which makes them ideal for an Ayurvedic cleanse. It is important to soak the beans at least two to three hours before they are cooked, as this helps in digesting them more easily.
Basmati white rice should always be used, as it is more gentler on the digestive system than brown rice. Make sure to rinse the rice well before it is cooked to remove any chemicals, debris, dirt. This also helps remove or break down the excess starch which makes the rice more easily digestible.
Spices vary in kitchari however, it is traditionally prepared with most of the following spices due to their healing qualities: ginger (supports healthy circulation (promotes digestion), turmeric (improves immune system, purifies blood, promotes clear and healthy skin), mustard seeds (have a heating quality that kindles digestive fire), asafoetida, or hing powder (helps with bloating, gas, and stagnation in the gastrointestinal tract), and fenugreek (supports absorption of nutrients).
Choosing produce that is naturally in season allows you to reap the nutritional benefits and ensures that you always get optimal quality and freshness. Choose organic when possible to avoid consuming unnecessary chemicals or pesticides and to get the most flavour possible. Since kitchari is such a versatile dish, you can choose whichever seasonal produce you prefer and opt for a 50/50 ratio of moong dahl and vegetables.
HOW DO I PREPARE KITCHARI?
Kitchari is an easy to prepare one-pot meal that can be eaten at any time. It is a very versatile dish that can be prepared and modified to suit your dietary needs. Some variations may be a bit more involved and others will be easier to prepare depending on the ingredients and the chosen method of cooking. The grains, vegetables, and spices used can also vary depending on the season, your dosha, and/or the specific imbalance you may have, according to your Ayurvedic constitution.
During traditional cleanses it is usually recommended to avoid adding in veggies and to prepare kitchari strictly with mung dal, basmati rice, digestive spices, and ghee. However, more gentler and modern cleanses allow for a wide variety of vegetables to make the dish more interesting. Always prepare kitchari with seasonal vegetables (e.g. zucchini, yellow squash, coriander for summer / carrots, squash, ginger in the winter, etc.) and with your current dietary needs in mind. No matter what recipe you use or which veggies and spices you add, kitchari is pretty easy to make, even for novices!
HOW OFTEN SHOULD I EAT KITCHARI?
You can eat kitchari as often as you’d like! It is gentle enough on the digestive system that even babies can eat it. The uses of spices can be based on your taste preferences, or if you’d like to follow more of an Ayurvedic approach to the recipe you can switch up the spices based on your constitution, imbalance or the season (although this option would take some research and/or recommendations from a professional). Remember, kitchari is nourishing, cleansing, and healthy, which means it’s a great go-top option for when you need to reset the digestive system, when you’re feeling under the weather and can’t stomach heavy meals, or simply when you’re looking for a wholesome one-pot recipe that you prepare for the week ahead!