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In America, downing a hearty grain dish would not be called fasting. But in India kitchari—a soupy porridge made from rice and mung beans, lightly spiced with ginger, cilantro, and other spices—is considered a fasting food and is used to purify digestion and cleanse systemic toxins.
Ayurvedic physicians often prescribe a kitchari diet before, during, and after panchakarma, a rejuvenative treatment that cleanses toxins stored in bodily tissues as it restores systemic balance. Kitchari provides solid nourishment while allowing the body to devote energy to healing. You can safely subsist on kitchari anytime in order to build vitality and strength as it helps balance all three doshas. For restless vata, the warm soup is grounding; for fiery pitta, its spices are calming; and for chilly kapha, it provides healing warmth.
Ayurveda believes that all healing begins with the digestive tract, and kitchari can give it a much-needed rest from constantly processing different foods while providing essential nutrients. The blend of rice and split mung beans offers an array of amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Its mixture of spices is believed to kindle the digestive fire, the Ayurvedic description for your innate digestive power, which can be weakened by poor food combinations.
Kitchari tastes like a cross between a creamy rice cereal and a light dal, or lentil soup. If it is a cold, blustery day or you are feeling under the weather, a steaming bowl of this classic Indian comfort food can both warm up your bones and restore sagging energy. Everyone has his or her own special method of making kitchari. Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing, by Usha Lad and Vasant Lad, offers a half-dozen kitchari recipes, including this one that was adapted for Yoga Journal:
1. First, rinse one cup of split yellow mung beans and soak for several hours. Set aside.
2. In a blender, liquefy one tablespoon of peeled, chopped ginger; two tablespoons of shredded coconut; and a handful of chopped cilantro with one-half cup of water.
3. In a large saucepan, lightly brown one-half teaspoon cinnamon; one-quarter teaspoon each of cardamom, pepper, clove powder, turmeric, salt; and three bay leaves (remove before serving) in three tablespoons of ghee, or butter.
4. Drain the mung dal and then stir it into the spice mixture in the saucepan.
5. Next, add one cup of raw basmati rice. Stir in the blended spice and coconut mixture, followed by six cups of water.
6. Bring to a boil, cover, and cook on low heat for approximately 25 to 30 minutes until soft.