Recently, I signed up for a seven-day at-home Ayurvedic spring cleanse, sponsored by the Himalayan Institute.
(The program is free-of-cost and available online until May 15.)
It had been a long winter and my digestion had become as rusty as an Alaskan pipeline.
Desperate times, as they say, call for desperate measures.
My kickstart would include a hearty helping of kitchari, an Ayurvedic ‘comfort food’ fashioned from brown rice, mung beans and spices. Kitchari is an easily prepared, easily digestible, and nutrient-rich ‘porridge,’ which can also act as a medicine to gently coax the body back into a more balanced state of being.
I was a neophyte to this concoction. We had never talked, texted or even Facebooked.
For the next week, kitchari and I were gonna be BFFs, I thought—as close as Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie circa ’07.
Oh no, I thought. I can’t even pronounce this stuff. How was I gonna eat it?
Does it rhyme with Atari? Bob Marley?
More importantly: would I emerge unscathed from ingesting so large a quantity of mung beans?
I used the recipe provided by the Himalayan Institute, available on the Himalayan Institute’s webpage and provided below:
1 cup basmati rice
½ cup organic whole or split mung beans (bulk section of the health food store). These need to be soaked for at least three hours before cooking.
4-6 cups of water
2 T ghee (clarified butter). An organic brand will be available at the health food store
1 teaspoon of black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 pinches hing (asafetida)
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
1 stick of kombu (seaweed). Also available at the health food store. You can substitute wakame if need be. You just need a little—one “leaf” per pot of soup.
½ teaspoon of sea salt
½ teaspoon of turmeric
c 1 – 2 cups chopped vegetables (optional)
Preparation: This recipe makes 4 servings. Wash rice and mung and soak for three hours or overnight. Drain soak water. In a saucepan warm the ghee. Add the ginger, mustard seeds and cumin seeds and sauté for one to two minutes until the mustard seeds start to pop and the aroma of the herbs is released. Add rice and mung beans and sauté for another couple of minutes. Then add 4-6 cups of water and bring this to a boil. Add the salt, powdered spices and seaweed once the kitchari has come to a boil and reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and cook until it is tender (approx. 30-45 minutes). If you are adding vegetables to your kitchari, add the longer cooking vegetables such as carrots and beets halfway through the cooking. Add the vegetables that cook faster such as leafy greens near the end. If you need to add more water you can. It should be the consistency of a vegetable stew as opposed to a broth. Garnish with fresh cilantro and add salt to taste. You can put a little chutney in to make it tasty. You can also use one of the chutney recipes to add flavor to your kitchari.
I prepared a pot on the first day.
Ugh, I thought as I extracted the steaming pot from the stove on Cleansing Day #1.
To add insult to injury, the bag of mung beans were staring me down from on the counter, like little eyeballs. Ewww, they’re probably laughing, I surmised.
This is gonna be a long week, I reckoned. I pinned my nostrils and took a bite.
To my surprise, it wasn’t half bad. I thought it could use a little more salt. And a pinch more turmeric.
Then my life changed.
It didn’t take long for me to come around.
By dinnertime, I was hooked.
What can I say? I didn’t really have much choice in the matter after all.
And the darn stuff can be pretty addictive.
Remember the law of diminishing marginal utility in economics? Have you ever eaten chocolate chip ice cream?
The first bite is glorious.
The one-thousandth bite?
Not so much.
Kitchari consumption defies the laws of the universe. It is good from beginning to end. One also seems never to get full.
And what do the doctors say?
Kitchari fasting provides the body with a mono-diet. By limiting the amount of foods that are consumed, only a certain number of digestive enzymes are produced, affording the digestive system a much-needed respite. When ghee or coconut oil is used, it can also be a source of healthy saturated fats.
Turmeric and ginger have potent anti-inflammatory properties. (They’re like dental floss for the brain.) Some of the other spices possess beneficial digestive properties. Mung beans are believed to be powerful blood purifiers.
A few weeks later, I am still eating kitchari a few days per week, buying in bulk at a local Indian grocery store. It is easy to prepare and cost-effective.
Maybe I will start a fast food restaurant…and serve only kitchari in its myriad incarnations.
Editor: Brianna Bemel