Above all other Indian meals, there is one which is considered to help facilitate spiritual growth. It is the Ayurvedic detox food – but it can also be found on many dinner tables on a normal day, as it is loved for other reasons, as well.
Kitchari, pronounced kich-ah-ree and sometimes spelled khichadi or khichdi, has long been used to nourish babies and the elderly, the sick, and the healthy during special times of detox, cleansing, and deep spiritual practice.
A simple, porridge-like blend of beans and rice, kitchari is often referred to as the Indian comfort food. But perhaps contrary to the western idea of comfort food or even health food, kitchari has many nourishing and cleansing benefits.
Join me as I investigate the subtle magic of kitchari, its profound benefits, and a simple recipe to enjoy.
The term kitchari is used to describe any dish made with a mixture of rice and beans. For the traditional, cleansing kitchari, split yellow mung beans were used along with a long grain white or basmati rice, and a blend of traditional Indian spices. Let’s take a look at the constituents of kitchari on their own before we talk about how to blend them together.
Why White Rice?
The first question you might ask is, why white rice? During a cleanse, the metabolism slows down and the digestive strength weakens, so any food eaten must be very easy to digest.
For kitchari, white rice is used because the husk has been milled off to make the rice easier to digest. While brown rice may be used – and will actually supply more nutrients – the husk makes brown rice much harder to digest. During cleansing, a time of already compromised digestion, this can irritate the intestinal wall and cause digestive gas or abdominal pain.
Traditionally, farmers would bring their rice to the miller and have the rice de-husked based on their needs. If someone was sick, elderly, or there was a baby in the house, all of the husk would come off, making white rice for the ease of digestion. Brown rice was used only if digestive strength was optimal or when funds were short, as it was expensive to have the rice prepared and de-husked.
Typically, long grain white rice was used over short grain rice because it was believed to be more nutritious. Even without the husk, it was considered a more stable food than short grain rice. Now, studies have shown that long grain white rice has a lower glycemic index than short grain rice.
Why Split Yellow Mung Beans?
To be called kitchari, the rice has to be cooked with a legume. Traditionally, that legume was split yellow mung dahl beans. These are the only legumes that are classified as “vata balancing” in Ayurveda. This means that, unlike every other type of beans or lentils, they will not produce any intestinal gas.
Split yellow mung beans also have their husk naturally removed. When they are split, the husk, which is very hard to digest and gas producing, naturally falls off. This process naturally renders them much easier to cook, digest, and assimilate.
A Perfect Protein
The combination of rice and beans has been a staple around the world for 10,000 years, and for good reason. You have probably heard the term complete protein, but let’s take a minute to really understand what that means.
There are 20 amino acids that combine with one another to make the proteins the body needs. Ten of them, the body can synthesize on its own. The other ten, called essential amino acids, the body does not make, meaning we must get it from our foods. Animal proteins are “complete” in that they contain all ten essential amino acids, but plant foods need to be combined to make a complete protein.
Rice, like most grains, is very low in the amino acid lysine. As a result, if you live on grains alone, you will likely become protein deficient. Legumes and lentils, on the other hand, have lots of lysine, but they are generally low in methionine, tryptophan and cystine. Fortunately, grains are high in these three amino acids.
So the marriage of rice and beans, as found in kitchari, has been providing the ten essential amino acids and making complete proteins for cultures around the world for thousands of years. For cultures that have subsisted on a plant-based diet, this marriage is often what allows their diet to be nutritionally sustainable.
Kitchari for Cleansing
During a cleanse, it is essential to have adequate protein to keep the blood sugar stable and the body burning fat.
One of the most common reasons folks have trouble with cleansing is due to unstable blood sugars made worse by the detox process. During a fast, for example, you are asked to drink only water, juice or veggies. For many, this type of austere fasting can be a strain and deplete blood sugar reserves. Then folks get really hungry, irritable, and end up with a low blood sugar headache or crash. While the goal of a fast is to shift the body into fat metabolism and detox the fat cells, this will not happen if the body is under stress and strain as a result of a difficult fast.
Here’s the basic equation:
Stress = Fat storing
No Stress = Fat burning
If you are attempting to detox heavy metals, preservatives, chemicals, pesticides and environmental toxins from your fat cells with a cleanse, make sure that you are not straining, or the amount of fat burned will be minimal.
Kitchari provides nourishment in the form of a complete protein that will keep the blood sugars stable during a cleanse. Otherwise, ironically, the body may react to the cleanse as a fat-storing emergency!
The goal of any effective cleanse should be to convince the body and the cells that life is not an emergency and that it is okay to burn that stored fat and release toxins. During a kitchari cleanse, you are eating this complete protein three meals a day, so there is no starvation response whatsoever. In fact, I always say that during our Colorado Cleanse and Short Home Cleanse, if you are straining or hungry than you are not getting the optimal benefits. The more comfortable you are the more fat you will burn.
Kitchari to Heal the Gut
In India, kitchari is often the first food for babies, not only because it is so easy to digest, it also heals and soothes the intestinal wall.
With 95 percent of the body’s serotonin produced in the gut, it is clear we process our stress through the intestinal wall. Chronic stress will irritate the intestinal wall and compromise digestion, the ability to detoxify through the gut, and cope with stress. During a kitchari cleanse, the digestive system can heal. While we offer four dietary options in our kitchari cleanses, eating just kitchari as a “mono diet” allows much of the digestion to be at rest during the cleanse, providing the nutrition needed to heal the gut and nourish the body.
Spiritual Practice and Deep Inner Calm
The state of fat metabolism facilitates a deep inner calm, making it the natural state for spiritual inquiry and practice. For this reason, kitchari was also fed to monks and ascetics to help create a sense of stillness in which we gain greater access to old toxic emotional and behavior patterns. This is also why kitchari is the food of choice of Panchakarma, Ayurveda’s deepest detox retreat.
How to Make Kitchari
This recipe makes enough kitchari for 3 or 4 meals. You can play with the mixture of spices. Many people prefer this recipe when the spices are doubled, or even tripled.
Ghee is optional in this recipe. Optionally, you can start by browning the spices in a pan with 1-2 tbsp of ghee.
*A note on kitchari for cleansing: During a cleanse, we recommend that the kitchari be made with less or no ghee. Because ghee is a fat, it will slow the shift into fat metabolism. The less ghee you use, the deeper the cleanse. Outside of cleansing, as part of a regular diet, it is important to use ghee.
- 1 cup split yellow mung dahl beans*
- ¼ – ½ cup long grain white or white basmati rice
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger root
- 1 tsp each: black mustard seeds, cumin, and turmeric powder
- ½ tsp each: coriander powder, fennel and fenugreek seeds
- 3 cloves
- 3 bay leaves
- 7-10 cup water
- ½ tsp salt (rock salt is best)
- 1 small handful chopped fresh cilantro leaves
- Can add steamed vegetables or lean meat when not cleansing, or for extra blood sugar support during a cleanse
*Split yellow mung dahl beans are available at Asian or Indian grocery stores, or on our online store. Different spellings include mung or just dahl. Please note that you do not want the whole mung beans – which are green – or yellow split peas.
- Wash split yellow mung beans and rice together until water runs clear.
- In a pre-heated large pot, dry roast the ginger and all the spices (except the bay leaves) on medium heat for a few minutes. This dry-roasting will enhance the flavor.
- Add dahl and rice and stir, coating the rice and beans with the spices.
- Add water and bay leaves and bring to a boil.
- Boil for 10 minutes.
- Turn heat to low, cover pot and continue to cook until dahl and rice become soft (about 30-40 minutes).
- The cilantro leaves can be added just before serving.
- Add salt or Bragg’s to taste.
For weak digestion, gas or bloating: Before starting to prepare the kitchari, first par-boil the split mung dahl (cover with water and bring to boil), drain, and rinse. Repeat 2-3 times. OR, soak beans overnight and then drain. Cook as directed.
Kitchari : A New Favorite in Your Kitchen
Make kitchari when you are sick, when you are sad, when you are cleansing, for your kids or a loved one when they are under the weather, when you can’t be bothered to cook, when you come back from a long trip, when you need to regain your strength, but maybe not for dinner on a first date.
You’ll be surprised how warming and comforting it is, and pretty soon it’ll be the stuff your cravings are made of.
To learn more about LifeSpa’s Kitchari cleanses: