What is Kitchari?
Kitchari is a Sattvic, light, easy-to-digest, cleansing, detoxifying food that is excellent once a week, at the change of seasons, or any time you feel like giving your digestive system a break. It is also just a normal one-pot-dish you can have for dinner.
What is Sattva and What Are Sattvic Foods?
Sattvic foods, or more exactly, a Sattvic diet, is a diet that is light and easy to digest and that aids a “spiritual” lifestyle whose goal is “purity, wholesomeness, and virtue.” Sattivc foods are fresh and full of prana, nutrient dense, keep Agni stimulated, but not overstimulated. A Sattvic diet does not stimulate the passions or aggression, and also does not create sloth and laziness. Sattva is the perfect balance of activity and inertia, so its a diet that makes you strong, but keeps you clean.
A Sattvic diet or food is one that balances the other two Gunas, Rajas and Tamas, associated with activity and inertia. Sattvic diet also tends to pacifiy all three Ayurvedic Doshas–Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Sattvic diet was the diet traditionally taken in India by Yogis and Brahmins. Brahmins were traditionally philosophers, mathematicians, priests, musicians; people who used thinking to earn their daily chappati. Other people, like warriors, businessmen, and laborers, tended to include meat in their diet and other foods that stimulated Rajas or Tamas, as their lives involved higher levels of physical activity and even aggression. Even so, those folk might cleanse periodically with Sattvic diet, or lean, on a personal basis to more Sattvic diet. Its a question of what in your diet is the regular food and what is an exception. And there is a huge difference between a meat and potatoes diet and eating a goat curry twice a month.
Are Chillis/Chile Sattvic?
Ironically, one of the most un-Sattvic foods that strongly aggravates Pitta, Vata, and Rajas, are chillis/chile. Its interesting to note that chillis/chile were brought to India from the New World by the Portugese, and were not part of the Indian diet before the 16th century. Chiles/chilli are not part of a Sattvic diet at all, though Indians are now so used to them, even some Yogis eat them. My guru was adamantly opposed to chile. They can be good for Kapha dosha, but strongly aggravate Vata and Rajas because they are so stimulating, and Pitta because they are so hot.
When Should I Eat Kitchari?
Eat kichari whenever you are feeling sluggish, or have been over-indulging in heavy, fatty foods. Kitchari can be the basis of a one week “mono-diet cleanse”, used in Ayurveda to cleanse the body of the digestive toxins (Ama) that accumulate in tissues from overeating, eating the wrong foods for your dosha, overindulging in heavy foods, and eating in stressful conditions like gobbling lunch at the computer while working, or at the T.V. while watching a horror movie or the news. A mono-diet cleanse or fast gives your body a chance to burn off these cellular and gut toxins, without weakening your system with radical fasting, which does not suit Vata or Pitta dosha.
Kitchari is light and easy-to-digest and contains herbs and spices that stimulate Agni digest fire, so when using it as a mono-diet fast, it gives you basic nutrients—carbohydrate, vegetable protein, a little healthy fat, while stimulating Agni to function well because of its digestive spices.
Fasting in Ayurveda
The basic concept of fasting is that by removing input, the organism has a chance to reorder itself. Food is, on one level, information for your body’s intelligence. When you stop eating for a while, your body is forced to clean itself. But total fasting will aggravate both Vata, which is too light and cold, and Pitta, which is too hot. Mono-diet fasting with Kitchari, keeps the dietary input/information to a light, easy to digest, Agni stimulating minimum, while at the same time keeping Vatta, Pitta, and Kapha pacified.
Kitchari–the Key Ingredients
The key ingredients in kitchari are rice, mung dal, ginger, cumin, and salt. That is the bare minimum. Mung dal (the lentil from mung bean) is the easiest to digest lentil, rice is the easiest to digest grain, and ginger and cumin stimulate digest fire without creating unhealthy heat, so this basic combination is fundamentally Tri-doshic; which means this dish in its basic form pacifies all three doshas.
Tailoring Kitchari to Your Dosha–BodyMind Type
What else you add to your kitcharee can be tailored to your dosha combination. For example,
for Pitta one can switch from sesame oil to coconut oil or ghee. One could add grated coconut and cilantro (Coriander Leaf) or curry leaf for Pitta, and reduce or eliminate the black pepper, depending on the indivdual. For example, if you are a pitta who currently has hot type eczema or GERD, maybe eliminate black pepper. But, if you are dual Pitta-Kapha, the black pepper may be useful. This is why its good to be evaluated by an Ayurvedic Practitioner. For Pitta you can also use more sweet spices like cinnamon, fennel, or especially cardamon.
for Vata dosha use more rice and less mung, use sesame oil and add other warming and sweet spices as below, like fennel, cinnamon and clove, or use asofoetida powder (hing). If you use hing, add curry leaf, and delete cinnamon, cardamon, or clove. Vata dosha types may have your kitchari with a little kefir or yoghurt.
for Kapha dosha increase the ratio of mung dal to rice, use sesame or even mustard oil (the latter if you are Kapha who tends to be cold, or its winter, don’t use sweet spices, add more warming spices, like black pepper, long pepper, black cumin, clove and ginger powder as well as fresh ginger root, and add fresh popped mustard seed.
How to Make Ayurvedic Kitchari
White Basmati Rice, 1.5 cups
Mung Dal Lentil ¾ cup
Brown Onion-One, sliced
Carrot, 2, medium, sliced in large chunky pieces
Daikon Radish Root, 1, small, sliced in half moon chunks
Ginger Root—5-6 slices, each about the size of an US 25 cent piece
Cumin Seed 2 tsp
Black Cumin Seed, ¼ tsp
Fennel Seed, ¼ tsp
Clove, 3 pieces
Cinnamon or Cassia Stick, two 1 inch pieces
Black Peppercorn, whole, 1 tsp
Turmeric 1 tsp
Salt to taste
Sesame Oil or Ghee, 2 tbsp or less
Water, around 5 cups, depends on the rice quality and the kind of pot you use. Don’t over or undercook the rice. I like to use boiling water. Err on the side of not enough, because while you can add water near the end, you can’t take it out.
What Kind of Pot to Use?
I usually make my kitchari in a very old heavy wok that has been seasoned by use. Its easiest to brown whole Indian spices in a round bottomed pan. You can also make it in a any kind of heavy pot/pan, like a cast iron pot or stainless. Don’t use aluminum.
- Wash the rice and dal 4-5 times until the water runs clear. Set aside in a strainer to remove as much water as possible
- Saute onions and spices (except Turmeric) in oil or ghee on a medium high heat until the onions brown a bit and the smell of the spices fills the house
- Add the rice and dal, reduce heat to a low flame, and continue to saute until the rice starts to change color a bit and absorbs the fat. Keep stirring so the rice does not stick too much or burn. It will stick a little bit, not to worry. This should take about 5 minutes or more depending on your pot.
- Add the turmeric and salt to the water and bring it to boil. Now add the water slowly to the rice while stirring gently, or add the rice to the hot water, depending on which vessel you want to cook it in. I like to add the water to the vessel I have browned the rice, dal, and spices in, in order to use all the flavor in the pan. But you can for sure add the rice, veggies and spices to a pot of hot water.
- Bring all the ingredients to boil, then reduce the flame to low medium or simmer, with a lid on until done. The Indian method is to have the lid not quite on all the way so it does not boil over. This depends on the size of the pot, relative to ingredients.
- When done you will see holes in the rice where the steam rose, especially with basmati rice. The grains of rice should be light, fluffy, not soggy, but cooked to the center, not in any way crunchy on the inside. If crunchy, its not yet fully cooked.
About Mung Dal
Good mung dal should cook down so that its completely soft and easy to digest. Nowadays there are all kinds of hybrids grown under god knows what kind of pesticide conditions.
High quality mung dal that cooks very soft is available in San Diego, for example, at People’s Coop. Its pale yellow in color and not shiny. I find the mung dal at the Chinese market that is shiny does not cook soft enough. The ones at the Indian market are usually good, but again, look for pale yellow in color, that is not shiny. When you wash your mung dal the water should be starchy or milky white and you have to wash it 3-5 times till the water runs clear.
Copyright Eyton J. Shalom, M.S., L.Ac. San Diego CA April 2017
all rights reserved, use with permission