Try my everyday kitchari recipe for a soothing Ayurvedic boost.
Kitchari (pronounced Kichri) is the best example I know of an ‘anytime’ comfort food. This Ayurvedic staple is ideal for breakfast, fab for lunch and perfect for dinner. Make it light and soupy when you’re feeling run-down, or thick and stodgy with a dollop of ghee when you need a hearty warming boost. Kitchari means ‘mixture‘ in Hindi, which is an adaption from Sanskrit, and was the influence behind the British classic kedgeree.
The original kitchari combination, as well as the easiest to digest and therefore the most traditionally Ayurvedic, is mung dal (split mung beans) and white basmati rice, but you can adapt it with quinoa, millet or brown basmati (which is a little harder to digest than white), or swap in a different dal, like toor dal or red split lentils.
Ayurveda recognises kitchari as having many benefits. This everyday dish helps to bring us into balance, is easy to digest, and freshly made it’s high in prana (life force). It’s belly-warming and is great for easing you into the day or facilitating a good night’s sleep. In India, kitchari is fed to babies and the elderly, as well as during fasts and cleanses, as it is nutrient-rich while supporting our digestion: it contains enough fibre and protein to constitute a meal in and of itself.
Alongside all these benefits, kitchari is also endlessly adaptable to suit our constitutions and preferences, and is always affordable. Mung dal and basmati rice will cost you about a pound each at Asian food shops or larger supermarkets, and seasonal veg won’t cost you more than a few pounds. Herbs, spices and ghee may add up a bit more, but each container will last you for months – and endless bowls of kitchari!
Start the dish by heating some ghee (an important and valued oil in Ayurveda, similar to clarified butter, or use your choice of fat), then sauté an array of spices – nature’s medicine cabinet (I use my 7-spice tin, which holds my favourites) – until fragrant before simmering your dal and rice combo, and your choice of vegetables until tender. Check your local greengrocers or farmers market to see what’s in season.
To personalise your kitchari for an even greater health boost, check out the doshas: Ayurveda’s system for helping us to understand how we’re feeling and what’s going on in our minds and bodies. Tuning into how you’re feeling before you eat means you can tweak the recipe to suit you better – let food be thy medicine! It’s nothing super intimidating and doesn’t mean you can’t serve it to someone else; it just means mixing in more of a particular spice into your portion, or adding a squeeze of lime, etc.
Then there’s what you can do with the veggies. If you’re feeling stressed and overstimulated – an excess of Vata dosha – mix in carrots, courgette, peas, sweet potatoes, butternut squash or asparagus, according to what’s in season. If you’re feeling irritable, having trouble sleeping or experiencing headaches – an aggravated Pitta dosha – try leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, courgette and carrots. Finally, if you’re feeling a bit tired, heavy or lethargic -a sign of a Kapha imbalance – opt for leafy greens, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, asparagus and celery.
And if you haven’t been swayed by the Ayurvedic element, then consider this: as well as being inexpensive, kitchari is easy to make, very hard to mess up and the perfect meal for one (half a cup dal, half a cup rice) or to feed a crowd (do your maths!). You can jazz it up or down with pestos, chutneys, sprinkles and make it seasonal. This is definitely a recipe for your repertoire – and a repertoire or routine is definitely a way to make your meals more sustainable. This way you can reduce waste, spend less of your precious time meal-planning and help to streamline your life by bulk-buying the staple ingredients that you will use again and again.
It’s an easy, crowd-pleasing, nutrient-rich, versatile and delicious dish. Once you’ve tried it and enjoyed its comforting simplicity, you’ll want to come back to it again and again…
70g (1/3 cup) white basmati rice
70g (1/3 cup) mung dal (or mung beans, soaked overnight)
2 tbsp ghee
1 bay leaf
pinch of asafoetida
370ml (1 1/2 cups) water
1 tsp cumin seeds
5cm (2in) piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped, or 1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp black pepper
pinch of sea salt, to taste
fresh coriander, to serve (optional)
1. Rinse the rice and mung dal three times.
2. In a heavy-bottomed pan, melt half the ghee and sauté the bay leaf and asafoetida. Add the mung dal, rice and water and simmer for 20-25 minutes, lid on, until tender. Add more water as necessary.
3. Add any chopped vegetables to the pot progressively, according to how long they take to cook.
4. In a separate pan, make a tarka. Melt the remaining ghee, then add the cumin seeds and cook gently until they start to pop. Add the ginger and sauté until golden brown. Add the turmeric and sauté for a few more minutes.
5. Add the tarka to the rice and dal mixture. Cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring often. Season with salt and pepper and serve with fresh coriander, if desired.