Kichari: Ayurveda’s Spring Cleaning
When spring starts to hint at its arrival, our thoughts turn to longer days, blooming flowers and trees, and opening windows to let the fragrant outside air replace the recycled indoor air we’ve been breathing for months. The fresh air and new life all around us often inspires us to clear out the old and invite the new into our homes—and into our bodies too.
There are, of course, many ways to clear out the remnants of winter. There are juice fasts, water fasts, detox fasts, detox baths, to name a few. One fast I particularly enjoy in early spring comes from Ayurveda. I like fasting for a few days on kichari.
Kichari (also spelled “kitchari” or “kichadi”) is a traditional Indian stew made from Basmati rice, mung dal (split mung beans), vegetables and fragrant spices that’s slow cooked to make it easily digestible. It’s the staple food of the traditional Ayurvedic cleansing process called panchakarma.
The kichari fast is not technically a fast, because you do eat kichari, but that is all you eat—no snacks. You can fast on kichari for anywhere from a day to a week. Because it is so easy to digest, eating kichari gives your digestive system a rest. I like fasting this way because I have low blood sugar. On a kichari fast there are no blood sugar headaches or spaciness.
There are many different ways to make kichari. The main distinction among recipes is the combination of spices and vegetables you include. For example, The Ayurvedic Cookbook by Amadea Morningstar and Urmila Desai includes recipes for kicharis that support the lungs, kidneys, pancreas and spleen, and digestive system. There are also recipes that create a warming or cooling effect in the body.
Because I’m an Ayurveda “hobbyist” rather than a professional, I stick to the simple recipes in the book I mentioned, or some I’ve recently found online. Here’s a basic recipe from planetherbs.com to get you started. There’s also a whole lot of good information on this site if you want to learn more:
1 cup split mung dal (yellow)
2 cups of white basmati rice
2 tsp of ghee (clarified butter)
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp of coriander powder
1/2 tsp of cumin powder
1/2 tsp of whole cumin seeds
1/4 tsp of rock salt
8 cups of water (6 cups when using a pressure cooker)
This is suitable for all body types. If you want to make a more heating version you can add these ingredients:
1 inch of fresh minced ginger root
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 scant pinch of hing (asafetida, available in Indian grocery stores)
Method of preparation
Wash the rice and dal together until the water runs clear, to eliminate the excess starch. Add eight cups of water and cook the covered rice and dal until it becomes soft and tender. Saute the mustard seeds, whole cumin seeds, hing, cumin powder, coriander powder and turmeric together with the ghee in a separate sauce pan for a few minutes or until the aroma begins to permeated the air. Stir the cooked rice and dal into the pan and cook until it is done. Add rock salt, and the cilantro leaves just before serving.