Kitchari (pronounced kitch-a-ree) is a staple comfort food of India, also known as khichari, khitchari, and kitchiri, and also sometimes referred to as kedgeree (though incorrectly, as that is an English dish). The word "kitchari' means "mixture" or "mess" as in "mess of pottage" or "mess of stew" or porridge.
The main ingredients are rice and mung beans, to which a variety of spices and other vegetables may be added. Often the mung beans are replaced with another bean. Sometimes the resultant "mess" is thick, and sometimes it is thin and soupy. And, sometimes, the word "kitchari" is used loosely to describe any "mess of pottage", such as, "I made a kitchari of millet and lentils".
The ancient practice of fasting on kitchari, or a "kitchari cleanse", utilizes the traditional mix of rice and mung beans. In Ayurveda, the ancient wisdom of India dating back 5,000 years, this mix of rice and mung beans is considered extremely easy to digest and is said to purify the digestion and cleanse the body of toxins, much like other cleansing diets.
According to Vasant Lad, in his book, The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies, "A five-day kitchari fast, using plain kitchari with just some chopped cilantro leaves added, will cleanse the system and help to strengthen memory." See his plain recipe below.
Kitchari fasting is actually a mono-diet, which means the body receives a limited diversity of foodstuffs and therefore needs to produce a limited number of digestive enzymes. The work of the digestive system is lessened, allowing for greater healing and cleansing to occur. Just like a brown rice fast, a kitchari cleanse can be calming, soothing and warming.
Most Ayurvedic-derived kitchari recipes call for basmati rice in particular. This may be because basmati is a rice that is considered appropriate for all three constitutional types; Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. If you've never tried basmati rice before, you're in for a treat! It is called an aromatic rice, and, oh my, when you're cooking it, it smells wonderful!
Rarely is brown or whole rice specifically called for, but obviously white rice, with its recent appearance in human history, could not have been used thousands of years ago. Because white rice is devoid of nutritional content, no one should be ingesting it, especially on a fast. If you decide to expand your kitchari-horizons and search for other recipes, assume it is always "whole" rice being called for.
While the traditional bean used is mung, either whole or split (green or yellow), another bean appropriate for all three doshas is red lentils. So if you have trouble finding mung beans, try red lentils.
Because of this diversity of ingredients allowed, there are an untold number of recipes for kitchari. Probably every cook has his or her own favorite version. A good analogy might be "chili" in America with its countless recipes and variations. For fasting and cleansing, we would use the most simple, plain versions. The "dressed up" versions are good for any other time.
Vasant Lad's recipe for plain kitchari, which he says is suitable for fasts up to five days. For those of us who can't stand cilantro, parsley is just fine.
This is my recipe for plain kitchari. Since research has shown the soaking of grains to increase their nutrition and ease of digestibility, my recipe calls for soaking the rice as well as the beans.
I also add butter or coconut oil, considered healthy saturated fats, for the vitamins and health benefits.
This recipe is from HealthWorldOnline as presented by Siri-Ved Kaur Khalsa, and based on the teachings of Yogi Bhajan. I offer this recipe both because of its mildness and because of the many optional vegetables listed. Also, she says you can go thick as stew or thin as soup, whatever your preference at the moment. As soup, she adds extra tamari or Bragg's Liquid Aminos in addition to the added water. If this recipe proves too mild for your taste, she suggests adding 1/2 to 1 tsp of crushed red chilis and rounded measurements for the other spices.
The following recipe comes from Kripalu Center for Holistic Health, as published in 1980 in their book entitled Kripalu Kitchen, A Natural Foods Cookbook and Nutritional Guide. They say their spiritual teacher, Yogi Amrit Desai, chose an intense period of seclusion, during which his wife brought him his daily meal. This recipe is said to be one of her special creations during that time and so, was dubbed "Seclusion Special".
If you become a fan of kitchari and find and develop your personally-perfect recipe, you will also discover there are many other ways to eat it. You can roll it up in a tortilla or put it in a pita, adding fresh chopped onion and lettuce. With the right consistency, you can make patties with it and fry til crispy. If you're not vegan, grated cheese on top is wonderful.
Avoid using the microwave to reheat the leftovers, and see here for alternatives for heating kitchari. You can freshen leftovers by adding a few new ingredients, like fresh vegetables and then bake, covered; the flavors will blend nicely.
Kitchari is a wonderful addition to anyone's healthy recipe collection, whether you're planning to fast with it or serve it to company, whether you like it soupy or thick. Be creative and find your own great version.