Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Kitchari: eating for winter health

As we head deeper into the winter months and the days get shorter and the nights get longer and colder there is less energy in the world. There is less energy from the sun, less energy and movement from and by people and animals. It is a time of quiet, rest and introspection. It is a season to hibernate and gestate on ambitions, hopes and dreams for the year to come. Our internal metabolic processes mirror the quiet, slower, cooler energy permeating the world around us. So just as we (hopefully) put on a few extra layers when we get up in the morning and head to bed a bit earlier as the sun begins to show its self less and less, we also want to be changing and thinking about the kinds of foods we are eating. Winter is a time when we have less digestive fire, or to put it another way less energy to spend digesting our food. However, it is also a time when we need deep nourishment, we need to nourish our bodies in the same way we are nourishing our internal desires and ambitions. It is time to focus on cooking and eating simple, nourishing and warming foods that are easy to digest and assimilate.

Kitchari is a traditional lentil and rice dish from Indian that has a culinary tradition of over 1,500 years. There are many different variations of the dish and every great cook and healer has their own yummy recipe for it. Regardless of the specific recipe, kitchari generally combines nourishing foods such as rice beans and ghee with spices that stimulate digestion and circulation. Kitchari is a nourishing and delicious addition to the diet at any point in the year, but particularly in winter when we are thinking about how we can get the most nutrition possible while using the least amount of digestive effort.

This is my own kitchari recipe, the spices are simple and yet it is very flavorful and delicious, every bite feels like a treat. I usually use mung beans or split yellow lentils, you may experiment with other beans as well, be sure and soak them overnight. The traditional preparation of this dish calls for ghee, butter that has been cooked until the milk solids have separated out, leaving behind only pure butterfat. Ghee is very important Indian medicine considered to be highly nourishing to all body tissues including nervous system tissues. You may buy ghee in many natural health food stores or Indian markets or you can make it yourself. If you don’t have access to ghee right away you can use butter in the recipe instead.


In a Heavy bottom saucepan melt:
2 Tbs. Ghee (clarified butter)
Once the ghee is hot, add:
1 Tbs. ground Fenugreek seeds (preferably freshly ground)
1 Tbs. ground Cumin seeds (preferably freshly ground)
1 tsp. turmeric powder
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. fresh ground pepper
1 tsp. salt
Allow the spices to simmer until the aroma is released, then add:
1 cup white basmati rice
2 cups mung beans or yellow split lentils (soaked overnight)
4 cups of water
Bring to a boil and simmer over medium heat until water has reduced to the level of the rice and beans. Then turn the heat down as low as it will go, cover and steam until all the water is gone and the rice and beans are done. Remove the bay leaf before serving.

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