At this time of year, between the holiday feasts, plain and simple has special appeal, when I love nothing more than a warm bowl of Kichari.
Kichari, sometimes spelled Kichidi, is split mung bean and rice cooked long and slow, often with spices and ghee. It is an Ayurvedic staple ~ balancing, tonifying and cleansing.
We often think of foods that tonify, or strengthen, and foods that cleanse and detoxify as utterly distinct. The beauty of Kichari is that it does both. It fortifies and purifies, explaining its reputation as one of the world’s original “Smart Foods.”
Kichari is served to the sick, elderly, overweight, undernourished. It provides most of our daily nutritional needs, is easy to digest, and kindles the digestive fires, making it ideal, too, for post-operative recovery, as it won’t divert energy from the healing. Kichari is such a complete meal that it is often eaten exclusively as a fast. Patients receiving Pancha Karma are put on a Kichari-only regime for the duration of their multi-day Ayurvedic treatments, because it so efficiently supports detoxification.
Despite its medicinal power, Kichari is great comfort food ~ and surprisingly delicious. It is, in fact, full body delicious: home-cooked kichari awakens cellular intelligence to the point you can almost hear your body hum. Mmmmm. Yummmm. Ommmm. Yeeeesssss.
Since I didn’t grow up eating Kichari, I am comfortable taking liberties. For the past five years, I have made Kichari once or twice a week, experimenting with every recipe I could find. I make it a point, too, to taste Kichari at Indian restaurants in every city I visit. If it is unique or especially good, I try to recreate it at home. I used to follow guidelines regarding measurements, spices, proportions. By now, though, I have made it so regularly and in so many different ways, it has become entirely intuitive, and completely personal.
Yesterday, wanting to make something extra warm and comforting on what was a foggy, cold December day, I pushed the limits on the spices ~ and may have accidentally made my very best Kichari yet!
Here is what I did:
1/2 cup of split mung beans
1/2 cup of basmati rice
2 tbsp. Safflower Oil
1 tbsp. Olive Oil
3 tsp. Ghee, or Earth Balance for Vegan
1/2 tsp. Ginger powder
1/2 tsp. Turmeric powder
1/2 tsp. Garam Masala
1 tsp. Clove powder
1 tsp. Cinnamon powder
dash of Cayenne
dash of freshly ground Black Pepper
1/4 tsp. crushed Garlic
1/4 tsp. Asafoetida (Hing)
Sea or Himalayan Salt to taste
4 cups water
Begin by rinsing the beans. Let them soak in cool water while you melt 1 teaspoon of ghee with the safflower and olive oils in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add the ginger, turmeric, clove, garam masala, cinnamon, dash each of cayenne and fresh black pepper, and gently sauté for one minute. Add the garlic and stir well.
Drain the beans and mix them into the spicy oil. Rinse the rice and add to beans. Stir the rice and beans so they are thoroughly glazed. Turn heat to medium-high and add the water. Give it a good stir, bring it to a boil, lower the heat back to medium-low and cover.
Allow to cook for 45 minutes to an hour, checking to be sure the kichari is neither boiling too aggressively, nor drying too quickly. If you ever do need to add more water to the pot, bring it to a boil first in a separate pot and then quickly add to the Kichari. Technically, we should always maintain a consistent gentle boil when cooking beans.
In a separate small pan, melt the remaining ghee and add in the salt and asafoetida. When the kichari is fully cooked, spoon into bowls and pour this salty ghee over the top.
Yesterday, I sautéed fresh broccoli with a bit of yellow onion and slivered almonds in the “salt and asafoetida ghee,” then served it over the Kichari to make an extra crunchy, flavorful bowl of steaming nourishment.
Truly, it feels to me, that if food is love, Kichari comes straight from the unconditional heart.
For kichari, the mung beans must be split. I buy them by the pound in Little India. It is also recommended that the basmati be white, not brown, but in my liberty-taking way, I usually use brown. Read Michael Tierra’s article on Kichari to learn why. For more on the medicinal value of herbs and spices check out his website, Planet Herbs.