If you are even semi-familiar with the science of Ayurveda it is likely you have heard the term Kitchari being thrown around. Kitchari is an Indian dish commonly used as both food and medicine in Ayurveda; however, this is not your ordinary recipe. This simple, yet powerful food goes much farther than a tasty meal. With a long list of health benefits, uses and variations, this dish is undoubtably an Ayurvedic essential!
“Let medicine be thy food and food be thy medicine.”
So what is Kitchari exactly?
Kitchari is a traditional Indian dish with the main ingredients of mung dal and basmati rice that has been used in Ayurveda for thousands of years. Mung dal is the green mung bean, sliced in half with the outer green skin removed, leaving a small yellow lentil. The process of this allows the bean to cook into a mushy state, making it much easier to digest. Since this is one of the main health benefits of Kitchari, mung dal is often preferred over the whole mung bean when making Kitchari.
Why is Kitchari so revered in Ayurveda?
Kitchari is considered an Ayurvedic staple for several reasons. As mentioned above, the mushy state of the dal and basmati rice allows for easy digestion, even by many individuals that have a hard time digesting other beans. When eating meals such as this, the digestive fire (Agni) can reduce its work load and “take a break”. This (often much needed) break allows the digestion to strengthen and toxins to be flushed from the system.
Kitchari is also considered a “perfect protein” source, meaning it contains the nine essential amino acids that are needed in the body. However, Kitchari’s nutrient value goes much farther than protein. This hearty meal is a great source of numerous essential vitamins and minerals such as iron, calcium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, folate, copper, zinc and various B vitamins. It is a great source of dietary fiber and contains a large amount of anti-aging, cancer-fighting antioxidants. Due to the high nutrition content of Kitchari, it is considered a healthy, nourishing, sustainable meal option to eat on a regular basis (I personally eat Kitchari almost everyday!).
Between these two essential factors, Kitchari is considered a great meal choice for the daily diet, but even more so during times of cold, flu, illness, digestive disorders, pregnancy and postpartum. It is the single food taken during most Ayurvedic mono-diet cleanses such as the Kitchari Cleanse and the more in depth Panchakarma Therapy. 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.
Finally Kitchari possesses an unlimited amount of variations to fit your personal needs. Although traditionally Kitchari is created from solely mung dal and basmati rice, many individuals choose to switch up the ingredients for health purposes, doshic needs, seasonal influence or simply taste preferences. For example, a Vata-Balancing Kitchari will be beneficial for Vata types, during times of Vata imbalance, or for the fall season. Alternatively one may be performing a detox and choose a more typical Cleansing Kitchari recipe. Whatever your needs are there is likely a Kitchari recipe for you!
Health Benefits of Kitchari
- Tri-doshic, meaning it is beneficial for all dosha types (aka Ayurvedic body-types)
- Easy to digest
- Strengthens the digestive fire and flushes toxins when eaten regularly
- Due to the easy-to-digest quality, this is the most recommended meal during sickness, chronic illness, weakness, digestive issues, pregnancy, postpartum and detoxification
- Perfect protein source (contains all 9 essential amino acids)
- High in multiple nutrients such as iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, folate, copper, zinc and various B vitamins
- Great source of dietary fiber
- High in cancer-fighting, anti-aging antioxidants
- Nutrient dense, making it a healthy, sustainable routine meal option
- Improves heart and colon health
- Spices involved provide numerous health benefits such as reducing inflammation, flushing toxins, increasing circulation, boosting immunity, increasing the digestion and allowing better absorption of nutrients (see a full list of the health benefits of common spices here)
- Great meal option for weight loss programs (especially Kapha-reducing variations)
- Wide variety of recipe options to adhere to the individual’s healthcare needs (i.e. Vata-Balancing Kitchari, Cleansing Kitchari, Rejuvenating Kitchari, etc)
When is the best time to eat Kitchari?
Kitchari is very versatile and can basically be eaten at anytime. It is for suitable daily intake, as it is healthy, nourishing, energizing, great for the digestion, an excellent protein source and has many recipe variations to adhere to your current needs on any given day.
Whether you choose to make Kitchari a routine staple in your diet or not, it should at least be a mandatory part of your treatment during times of sickness (fever, flu, cold, etc), chronic illness, digestive disorder, cleansing, pregnancy, and postpartum. This is because during all of these stages of life the digestive fire becomes very weak and therefore only simple foods should be taken. But as mentioned above, the Kitchari will not only give the digestion a rest due to its ability to breakdown and assimilate easily in the system, it will provide you with plenty of essential vitamins and nutrients that will strengthen, nourish and rejuvenate the body during these crucial times.
How do you make Kitchari?
Kitchari is very simple to make. It generally requires the addition of the water, beans, rice, spices, oil and vegetables into one pan and cooked on a low simmer for long enough to make a mushy stew or soup of sorts. The cooking process generally will take about 30-45 minutes total.
There are a plethora of Kitchari recipe variations and therefore you can pick and choose the ones that will best suit your needs on any given day. Some may be a bit more involved and others will be easier depending on the ingredients and the chosen method for cooking. No matter what the recipe, Kitchari is fairly easy to make even for the novice.
Although the traditional Kitchari is made with mung dal and basmati rice, often you can use replacements such as using red lentils or whole mung beans rather than the mung dal. Generally Kapha types have issues with metabolizing refined grains and therefore may choose to use quinoa or millet in placement of the basmati rice (try our Mung Dal and Quinoa Kitchari recipe!). During cleanses it is often recommended to avoid adding in veggies, keeping the recipe as simple as can be and using strictly the mung dal, bastmati rice, digestive spices and lots of ghee. However, a wide variety of vegetables can be used to make it more interesting, adjusting the selection to the season (i.e. zucchini, yellow squash and cilantro for summer) and your current healthcare needs (i.e. beets, carrots, kale and dandelion greens for liver support).
Here is a great example of a simple, standard cleansing Kitchari recipe:
Classic Cleansing Kitchari Recipe
- 1 c split mung dal, soaked overnight
- 3/4 c basmati rice (can be substituted for brown rice, millet or quinoa for Kapha types)
- 4-6 c purified water (depending on taste, more water can be used for soupy Kitchari, and less for a thicker result)
- 1 carrot, thinly sliced or grated
- 1-2 celery sticks, thinly sliced
- 2-3 leaves of chard, kale or collard greens
- 2 Tbsp ghee, coconut oil or sesame oil
- 1 tsp fennel, freshly ground or whole*
- 1 tsp cumin, freshly ground or whole*
- 1 tsp coriander, freshly ground or whole*
- 3-5 black peppercorns, freshly ground*
- 1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
- Fresh juice from a 1/2 of a lemon
- 7+ sprigs of fresh cilantro, finely chopped
- 1 tsp turmeric*
- salt to taste (sea salt or pink Himalayan)
1. In a medium size sauce pan add the ghee along with the cumin, coriander, fennel and black pepper and stir frequently over a medium heat until the spices brown slightly and start to crackle.
2. Place the water in the same pan and bring to a boil. Add the mung dal. Reduce the heat to low, stirring occasionally. Cover the pan, leaving a slight opening to prevent the risk of overflow. Cook here for 20 minutes.
3. As the beans are cooking, begin to slice up the carrot, celery and greens. After the 15 minutes is complete, add these veggies to the pot along with the basmati rice. Stir and place the lid back keeping it slightly cracked.
4. Keep the ingredients on a low boil for 20-25 minutes or until the beans, rice and veggies are soft (almost mushy) and well cooked. Stir every 5 minutes during this time.
5. Remove from heat. Add cilantro, fresh lemon juice, grated ginger, turmeric and salt to taste.
NOTE: When using whole mung beans and/or brown rice the cooking time will increase. Make sure to use more water and to cook for at least 30 minutes alone before adding the veggies.
Savor this meal as your lunch, dinner or as a mono-diet during sickness, illness or a cleanse. It is easy to make, tasty, nourishing, great for the digestion and suitable for every-body. So eat up and enjoy my friends!!!
Questions? Kitchari has been a dietary staple of mine for over a decade and I would be happy to help as I can. Just leave any questions in the comment section below (or feel free to share your favorite ways to enjoy Kitchari!).