When I was growing up, a lot of northern India homes traditionally served kitchari, khichadi or khichdi for lunch on Saturdays. Sundays used to be the big get-together for family and friends, where several delicious but heavy dishes were served. I guess Saturday was prep day for the digestive system.
Khichadi is cooked and served in many India states and has different names (for example, bisi bele bhath in Karnataka, and pongal in Tamil Nadu). Khichadi is a perfectly light meal and helps your digestive system recover after a few days of indulgence, and to help prep the belly for a big meal.
What is khichadi? Kitchari (pronounced kich-uh-ree) is the traditional cleansing food of Ayurveda. Kitchari means mixture, usually of two grains. It is a combination of split mung beans and white basmati rice with plenty of spices, depending on your constitution. It has a porridge-like texture that forms a complete protein meal that is still being easy to digest. Basmati rice and mung dal together create a balanced food that is rich in protein and is tridoshic (helps vata, pitta, and kapha dosha).
Yellow mung dal, which high in protein and fibers, is considered healthier than other beans and legumes because it does not produce any gas in the intestines. These are the only lentils that are defined as vata-balancing in Ayurveda. The yellow mung beans have an astringent quality, which helps them remove toxins from the body. The basmati rice, which provides ample carbohydrates, is easier to digest because the husk is milled off. This complete food gives strength and vitality. It nourishes all the tissues of the body. Add seasonal vegetables and spices (according to your dosha), khichadi forms a full, one-pot meal perfect for recovering from illnesses or exhaustion or from overindulging during the weekend. khichdi is satiating, nutritious, a complete meal, and highly approved food in Ayurveda.
“Simply put, I believe khichadi to be light and invigorating for the working of the agni (gastric fire) which takes care of the efficient process of digestion,” says Dr. Sonica Krishnan, an author, speaker, consultant and holistic health motivator (Ayurveda and the natural lifestyle). “Khichadi is also believed to be a nourishing and detox diet,”
When my mother died, one of my Ayurveda teachers recommended eating khichadi from a bowl — because the dish is soothing and, because the bowl is reminiscent of a womb, it helps with healing. I personally find khichadi like one big warm hug in a bowl. It is instantly warming, grounding, and calming.
Jaya Sharan, the co-founder of Embroidery Nook and a copywriter, loves khichadi. When I asked her why, she said, “Love it because it’s light on the tummy. It’s perfect before or after any parties/heavy meals. In fact, I like it even when the mind is cluttered with too many thoughts; khichadi has such a soothing, magical effect.”
Khichadi is good for all Ayurvedic constitutions — vata, pitta and kapha. A slight tweak of the spices is all that is needed to tailor it to your own body’s needs.
“Many of my clients are forever traveling for work and khichadi is my recommendation for most of them after their travels,” says Rosalind John Gomes, CEO of Jiva Yatra Ayurveda, and a certified Ayurveda counselor. “Even if they cannot do at least a three-day cleanse, they usually replace a few of their meals with khichadi. Every one of them have benefited from the combination of khichadi and abhyanga. It soothes their agni [fire] and calms their nerves.”
In times when people are feeling exhausted from managing it all and are anxious about what the new normal will look like, khichadi offers healing, restorative, and nutritional benefits. It is a delicious, one-dish meal to cook and eat. If you are still a skeptic, here are a few benefits:
- It is easy and quick to prepare.
- It is tridoshic, which means it balances all constitutions.
- It is a complete protein meal.
- It is easy to digest so a perfect meal when feeling unwell.
- It is made with simple, wholesome, easily available ingredients.
- It removes toxins from the body.
- It is a low cost, cleansing food.
- It strengthens digestive fire aka agni.
There are as many recipes for khichadi in India as there are households, and the only necessary ingredients are rice and lentils. I asked Naina Lal, the CEO and founder of Kulinary Karma, to share her recipe for India’s comfort food.
She said, “My recipe is very sattvic in nature, meaning very natural and clean, but you may add some sliced garlic and onion in the tempering process if you wish to. Also, some diced up vegetables like carrots or white gourd can be added during the cooking process.”
For the khichadi: (serves 4)
1/2 cup rice
1/4 cup yellow mung beans (moong dal)
1/4 cup split green mung beans with skin on (chilke wali moong dal)
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and finely shredded
2 cardamom pods
1 tbsp green chilli; finely chopped
1 heaped tsp. turmeric powder
1/4 tsp black pepper powder
1 tsp. salt, or to taste
2 tbsp ghee; (clarified butter)
1/4 tsp asafoetida (optional but highly recommended)
1 tbsp cumin seeds
2 tsp paprika powder, or red Kashmiri chilli powder
A few curry leaves
- Wash the rice and lentils thoroughly in cold running water. Soak them all together in enough water for at least 3-4 hours. Soaking the dals ensures two things: first, it cuts down on the cooking time, but most importantly, because the germination process starts when you soak, it increases the nutrient benefit of the lentils.
- Drain the soaking water. Add all the khichadi ingredients in a large pot and cover it with 6 cups of water.
- Cook on a medium flame for 45-50 minutes, or until the lentils and the rice are cooked. Stir frequently.
- Stir vigorously at the end to achieve a creamy porridge-like or risotto-like consistency.
- Check for seasoning and set aside.
Tempering: Heat ghee in a small sauce pot or a small pan on medium-high heat. Add the asafoetida powder, if it is being used, along with the cumin seeds and let them crackle for a minute. Add chilli powder and the curry leaves, swirl to mix and pour over the khichadi. Serve hot drizzled with extra ghee. Enjoy!
Ayurveda reminds us that when seasons change, we are at our most vulnerable. That is when most people fall ill. As we move into spring, a little khichadi in your diet might do you wonders. Apart from being easy to cook and great for calming and detoxifying the digestive system, the ingredients in khichadi improve our immunity and give us energy. Why not use this simple meal to protect your well-being for the coming months and beyond?
“Because we cannot scrub our inner body, we need to learn a few skills to help cleanse our tissues, organs, and mind. This is the art of Ayurveda.” ~ Sebastian Pole
Check out more Ayurvedic recipes like our Savory Brown Rice Pongal recipe.