Kitchari: cleanse, nourish and reset

During my first Panchakarma I “had” to eat it everyday and was kind of sick of it, nowadays I don’t want one day to pass without eating it: Kitchari!

Kitchari, or Kitchadi, is a traditional ayurvedic dish that is known for its nourishing and healing properties. With a harmonious blend of white rice, split mung beans and an array of healing spices, kitchari offers not only a satisfying culinary experience, but also a variety of health benefits: This versatile dish has been cherished for centuries for its ability to detoxify, rejuvenate and provide a balanced source of nutrition.

I love a good kitchari for lunch or dinner – and it never disappoints. What I like most about the recipe is that it doesn’t take long to make and you only need a few essential ingredients for it. Play around with the texture, spiciness and different kind of vegetables.

The science behind the tradition

Kitchari holds a special place in Ayurveda: It is considered one of the most easily digestible meals and therefore the perfect choice to boost immunity. Its combination of rice and lentils provides a complete protein source, supplying essential amino acids necessary for bodily functions and muscle repair.

Digestion Boost: The gentle nature of kitchari makes it ideal for promoting healthy digestion. The combination of rice and lentils provides complex carbohydrates that sustain energy levels while also preventing blood sugar spikes. The inclusion of digestive spices like cumin, coriander and turmeric enhances digestion, reduces bloating and soothes the gastrointestinal tract. Just as a fire needs to be stoked to remain robust, our inner digestive fire, known as agni, requires a similar kindling. This easily digestible meal serves as the revitalizing fuel that agni craves to thrive and sustain your well-being.

Detoxification and cleansing: Kitchari is revered for its detoxifying properties. The blend of rice and lentils offers soluble fiber that binds to toxins and aids in their elimination from the body. The use of turmeric, renowned for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, supports liver function and the body’s natural detoxification processes.

Balancing body and mind: Ayurveda emphasizes the connection between physical health and mental well-being. Kitchari’s balanced combination of ingredients and spices is believed to create equilibrium in the body, mind and spirit. The inclusion of ghee, a clarified butter rich in healthy fats, nourishes the nervous system and supports cognitive function. The warm temperature of the dish soothes the nervous system too.

Which Kitchari recipe is the right one for me?

There are thousands of kitchari recipes out there – and everyone tends to cook kitchari slightly different: with more or less spices, different kind of veggies (or no veggies at all) and sometimes with some special spices such as asafoetida. The recipe below is from my ayurvedic doctor Dr. Sujatha Kekada from India who owns the health center AmrtaSiddhi in Ubud, Bali. It’s a pretty plain recipe, but I added some spices to make it a bit more special. If you want to play it safe, leave out the chili. You can always adjust the recipe to your liking and needs. For the veggies I like to use chopped carrots and green beans, but courgette also works really well. And spinach, cauliflower, broccoli and sweet potato too! My advice is to play around with the recipe and find your own favourite version of it.

Spices to cook Kitchari

Can I cook Kitchari without Ghee?

Ghee is traditionally used in kitchari for its flavor and ayurvedic benefits. But if you’re looking for a dairy-free or vegan option, you can use other cooking oil instead – based on your preference and dietary needs. Here are a few options:

  1. Coconut Oil: This oil is rich in flavor and can add a subtle coconut aroma to your kitchari. It’s a good option if you enjoy the taste of coconut and want a touch of its sweetness.
  2. Olive Oil: Olive oil is known for its heart-healthy properties and mild flavor. It’s a versatile option that can work well in kitchari without overpowering the dish’s other flavors.
  3. Sesame Oil: Sesame oil adds a distinct nutty flavor to dishes. You can use untoasted sesame oil for a milder taste or toasted sesame oil for a stronger, more intense flavour.
  4. Sunflower Oil: Sunflower oil is also neutral in flavor and has a high smoke point, making it suitable for cooking kitchari. It’s a common choice for those looking for a neutral-tasting oil.

Some oils are not suitable for high-heat cooking due to their low smoke points. Heating oils beyond their smoke points can cause them to break down, release harmful compounds, and produce off-flavors. Oils like flax seed oil, walnut oil, hemp seed oil or algae oil are not the best option to cook kitchari with. If you want to add them to your kitchari, you can still drizzle them on top right before eating though 🙂 If you are feeling really vata and dry, this is a good option to add some extra love.

Mung Dhal, Ginger, Carrots and Broccoli

Kitchari recipe: Let’s get cooking

INGREDIENTS (2-3 PORTIONS)
  • 2 tbsp plain ghee, coconut oil or sunflower oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 2 tbsp freshly grated ginger
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper powder
  • 1/8 tsp chili flakes (optional)
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped into small cubes
  • 1 small courgette, chopped into small cubes
  • 0,5 cup split mung dhal
  • 1 cup white rice (i like basmati rice)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 5-6 cups of water
METHOD
  1. Heat the oil in a sauce pan.
  2. Add cumin seeds and mustard seeds. When the seeds start to crack, add grated ginger, turmeric powder, pepper and chili. Let the spices roast for two minutes.
  3. Add the carrot and zucchini cubes, stir for about 3-5 minutes.
  4. Add the mung dhal and rice and stir.
  5. Add the salt, stir again.
  6. Add water. Cover the sauce pan and let simmer for around 20 minutes until the rice and dhal are soft.

Serve warm and with your choice of chutney. You can also top your kitchari with fresh herbs, lemon juice, sesame seeds or an extra teaspoon of ghee.

Cooked Kitchari in a bowl

TIPS FOR MAKING KITCHARI

Rinse the rice and lentils: Thoroughly rinse the basmati rice and split yellow mung beans before cooking to remove excess starch and ensure a clean start.

Soak for better digestion: Soak the rice and split mung beans for about 30 minutes before cooking. This not only reduces cooking time but also aids in digestion.

No split mung beans at home? Not to worry. I also like to use red lentils from time to time. Best part about this is that red lentils only need to cook 10 minutes (like the rice), and the kitchari will be ready even sooner.

Choose the right rice: Opt for long-grain basmati rice, which cooks to a fluffy texture. Avoid sticky rice varieties that could result in a gummy consistency.

Vary the vegetables: While traditional kitchari recipes use certain vegetables, feel free to experiment with different options like carrots, zucchini, sweet potatoes and leafy greens for added nutrients and flavours.

Add vegetables at the right time: More delicate vegetables like spinach should be added towards the end of cooking, while heartier vegetables like carrots can be added earlier.

Adjust consistency: Control the kitchari’s consistency by adding more or less water. Thicker kitchari resembles porridge, while thinner versions are more soupy.

Tadka/Tempering: The process of adding spices to hot oil (tempering or tadka) enhances their flavors. Do this at the beginning to infuse the oil and then later in the process to layer flavors.

Garnish for freshness: Fresh cilantro, chopped green onions or a squeeze of lemon juice can provide a burst of freshness to the dish.

Let it rest: Allow the kitchari to rest for a few minutes after cooking. This helps the flavors meld together and results in a more enjoyable dish.

No time really? Use a pressure cooker instead of a saucepan! It’s so much faster and your kitchari will be ready by the time you cleared your kitchen space after throwing everything in the pot. My go to version of kitchari is to cook the rice and dhal separately. This means I cook the veggies with the oil, spices and a splash of water in a pan and in the meantime cook rice and dhal together in a seperate pot. After 15 minutes, the rice and mung beans are ready and I simply add them to the veggies, give it a good stir and voilà – Kitchari is ready!

Customize to your taste: Kitchari is versatile, so don’t hesitate to customize it to suit your preferences. Adjust spices, vegetables and consistency to create a dish you love.