Fall Kitchari Recipe
Kitchari is one of those Ayurvedic staples that I return to time and time again. It’s perfectly warming, balancing, nourishing, delicious and easy to make. Ayurveda is the sister science to yoga and is based on the principle that opposites balance each other and like increases like. This preventative medical system understands the human condition and constitution, the seasons, our cosmos in terms of the elements: earth, water, fire, air, ether. These elements are grouped into different balancing/opposing constitutions called doshas. Ailments, sickness, mental, emotional and physical disease are due to an imbalance of our doshic state.
Our inner landscape reflects our surroundings and circumstance, and vice versa. This means seasonal transitions tend to correspond with personal shifts and transformations. The characteristic shedding of the leaves and a shift towards hibernation that occurs during the fall season is reflected in our natural inclination to slow down, nest and settle. Even the inclination to sit down and craft is our body’s natural pull towards balance; creativity, consistency, rhythm, and ritual help calm the sometimes erratic energy of fall. For many years of my life I resisted this slowing down; fall was a time of big shifts, whether that was when I was in school and preparing for a new semester, moving to a new state or country, or letting go of old relationships. This was like increasing like, resulting in a feeling of dis-ease, depression, fear and often sickness.
Fall is Vata season, the dosha associated with air, wind and ether. When this dosha becomes out of balance, it manifests as fear, stress, anxiety and a general feeling of ungroundedness. Not present in the moment. To calm and balance this cooling, drying derangement, we need to instead slow down and connect more with the energy of the earth, the Kapha dosha, and keep ourselves and our digestive fire gently stoked, with warming, easily digested foods and spices such as ginger, cumin, coriander and fennel. Besides lifestyle choices, Ayurveda points us to the age old remedy of let food be thy medicine. If we listen into and connect with the body’s natural intelligence- the body wants to be healthy, vital and balanced!- we can heal ourselves.
Any time of the year when I’m feeling unbalanced, I’ll slow down and make myself and my loved ones a big pot of kitchari. Cooking is a beautiful, grounding ritual in itself. Kitchari balances all three doshas, is easy to digest giving our digestive system a much needed pause, the rice and lentils form a complete protein, and the high fiber content helps remove toxic build-up from our intestines. Digestive issues are inextricably linked to our immunity. This warming Ayurvedic porridge is filled with immune boosting, delicious spices and easeful nourishment. Here is my recipe I’ve tweaked over the years, I’m an intuitive cook which means all amounts are flexible and to taste.
-Red or yellow split lentils & organic brown rose rice. About 2 cups each/ equal parts soaked in filtered water. Soaking helps make them easier to digest. I like to use this type of brown rice because of its short round grains= mushier porridge. A more traditional approach would use basmati rice.
-Yellow onion, several garlic cloves, big chunk of ginger and fresh turmeric chopped (ground is perfect too)
-Warming spices: coriander, 1-2 whole crushed cardamon pods + ground cardamon, 1-2 cinnamon sticks, 2-3 star anise, yellow mustard seeds, fenugreek, fennel, cumin, asafoetida (just a pinch! This spice gives a that classic Indian oniony garlic flavor, but less is more here!), bay leaf, crushed red pepper, cayenne, salt and pepper (long peppercorns if you have, this variety has a wonderful slightly minty flavor) to taste. Unless otherwise noted, all spices are about a healthy dash to a 1/2 a tablespoon or so. “Ish” as I say
-OIL is your friend!! Lots of oil, helps with internal lubrication of the joints and digestive system, plus helps our body absorb and assimilate many of the spices and nutrients. Turmeric is one of those magical herbs that is anti-inflamatory, anti cancer, basically all the good things and more. However the main active component in turmeric, curcumin, can only be assimilated when it’s combined with oil or black pepper. Fats also taste good so there’s that too ;) Ghee is traditionally used, but if you’re vegan coconut oil works perfectly as well.
-Optional: seasonal veggies! Root veggies are perfect here for fall, they add more grounding earth energy.
-Fresh cilantro to garnish, good for digestion and the freshness of this herb is lovely on top. Fresh lime is amazing too!
Combine all spices, chopped onion, garlic and ginger in a big pot with your oil. Cook down on med-low heat until fragrant, spices are lightly toasted and onions are transluscent. Add drained beans, rice and chopped root veggies + enough water to cover. Simmer on low for 30-45 minutes, keep stirring every once in a while and adding water when the porridge starts to look dry. The longer you let the spices and everything mingle, the more delicious it’ll be. If it looks like it’s starting to burn on the bottom and you want to keep cooking/ want it to be mushier (yum!!) you can turn the heat off and just let it sit and do it’s thing. When you’re ready to eat, add more water and re-heat on low. Serve with cilantro, lime, and more oil- olive oil is a nice finishing oil on top. Get cozy and enjoy with loved ones!