Food Therapy: Healing Kichari

Healing Touch

This past weekend we taught the first of three Intensives in our long-awaited ~ at least long-awaited by us ~ 100-hour Vedic Yoga Therapy Training. I say “long-awaited” because Yoga-as-therapy is what we do. Both my husband and I enjoy a deeply passionate life thanks to Yoga. But more than that, we survived because of Yoga. So you’d think a “Yoga Survivors” training of sorts is where we’d begin.

Garden Practice

We have had the intention of doing this from the very start. Ten years on, we are just getting to it now. But that’s okay. Because along the way, healing continues to occur. So much so that by this weekend, teaching was natural and spontaneous. It flowed. Amazing people showed up. Amazing things happened. There were flashes of insight, deep connections, rippling waves of relief and release. We laughed. We cried. We touched, moved, breathed, and we were touched, moved and inspired by our students and their courage.

Soul Brothers

Something happens that could never have been planned and it becomes a whole lot larger than the sum of its parts. We feel ourselves more as witness than teacher, aware of the unfolding of a perfection we cannot name, willing players in service to a healing force invisible but, at times like these, immensely tangible.

It is quiet work, and very deeply rewarding.

Twisting into Bliss

So what do you eat on a weekend devoted to the Healing Arts when you work from 7 am to 5pm and have a house full of students?

Why, Kichari, of course.

Kichari with Oregano Flowers

Kichari is the most healing of foods, not to mention whole-body delicious. It is warm, rich, hearty and grounding: delightfully balancing in Fall. It is so healing, in fact, that it becomes Ayurveda’s Autumn Fast for those wanting a seasonal Detox.

I simply cannot say enough about it: Kichari is cleansing. Kichari is tonifying. Kichari is nurturing. Kichari is gentle to sensitive tummies. Kichari is loving, warm assurance on cold, rainy days like today. Kichari is a family favorite. Kichari is so important to Ayurveda that it is featured all over this Blog. Kichari might even be called the star of Food: A Love Story.

Yum!

This past Sunday, I made it first by melting ghee and sautéing a spoonful of Autumn Masala, a spice mixture from my “Dancing Plums” collection which is basically ginger, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, ajwan, and sesame seed.  Towards the end, I grated one carrot and half a zucchini, tossing them into the pot for the last ten minutes of cooking. Just before serving, I went to the garden and cut a few stalks of oregano, placing them, flowers and all, on top of the kichari once ladled into bowls.

I put it all together in ten minutes before everyone arrived, and kept it warm in our slow cooker. But it can be made any morning before work and kept until lunchtime in a thermos. You can even cook it in a thermos. Just toss in the ingredients, add boiling water, stir and seal. Let it stew at least four hours and by lunchtime you will have a home-cooked, healthy, hot meal.

Nourishing, Wholesome Delight

Again, there are a number of recipes for Kichari here on this Blog. You will find two on the Basics page, another one here and a great video demonstration, by the totally adorable Kate Lumsden making Kichari in her kitchen.

In Ayurveda there is a saying, “Food is sensory. Digestion is Divine.” Both a sumptuous symphony of sensory delights and divinely digestible, this healing dish is a sacred blessing.

Vedic Healers in Training

To all healers everywhere and all who are healing, I send Love and a great, big Thank You!  

Namaste ~ 

Is that an OM I hear?

Whole Mung

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.

Split Mung Beans are the primary ingredient in Kichari

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:

Everyday Kichari

1/2 cup of split mung beans
1/2 cup of basmati rice
3 T Ghee, or Coconut Oil for Vegan
1/2 t Ginger powder
1/2 t Turmeric powder
1/2 t Garam Masala
1 t Clove powder
1 t Cinnamon powder
dash of Cayenne
dash of freshly ground Black Pepper
1/4 t crushed Garlic
1/4 t Asafoetida (Hing)
Sea or Himalayan Salt to taste
5 cups water

Begin by rinsing the beans. Let them soak in cool water while you melt 1 teaspoon of ghee with the ghee/oil in a large soup 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 spiced 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 and chopped carrots 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.

Kichari

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.

Namaste!