Kitchari, a magical food… and I’m scared to death of my pressure cooker!

Rice and beans is a staple meal in most cultures. It’s got everything you need for a (somewhat) balanced diet – carbohydrates, protein and fiber. The combination never much appealed to me – I’ve always been more of a pasta girl – until this past week when I somehow managed to gain five pounds in six days (I’m thinking shots of jagger had something to do with it).

With my sister’s wedding looming around the corner, I decided to try something I’d never done before: fast. I remembered something from a book on Ayurveda called “Eat, Taste, Heal” that I’d recently been introduced to. In it, the authors describe a cleansing through what they call a kitchari mono-diet. It’s basically a 24 hour fast that lets you eat three times a day. Sounded easy enough to me.

The first challenge came in finding the right ingredients, such as split yellow mung dahl. I asked a friend who often cooks with Indian ingredients where to go, which of course lead to the question why. When I explained I wanted to try kitchari, she became so excited. I quickly learned it was one of her favorite comfort foods growing up and something she and her family still make frequently. I had no idea – I thought this was a food for a fast, like having to drink that awful gunk before a colonoscopy. I promised I would try her family’s kitchari recipe, which she swore would be better than the bland recipe for fasting.

On Monday, I made the kitchari from the book. It was pretty straightforward: soak the basmati rice and dahl, rinse, add water, and cook in a pot on the stove with clarified butter, salt, pepper, ground cumin and ground coriander. It came out sort of like rice porridge softly enhanced by Indian spices. Despite the fact it was a 70 degree day and my air conditioning wasn’t working, I really enjoyed the kitchari. I ate it three times that day and drank a lot of water, and I felt great. The best part was the next morning when four of those nasty five pounds had disappeared.

Today, I decided to try Mama Shah’s kitchari. It uses the same main ingredients of basmati rice and split yellow dahl, but includes many more spices and seasonings than the Ayurvedic kitchari. It is slightly more complicated but took less time to cook as my friend insisted that I had to use a pressure cooker (which I’m terrified of, more on that to come). This recipe has more depth of flavor but is not at all spicy, in fact it’s a little sweet. This comes from the caramelized onions and probably the fact that I was a little too light-handed with the spices, and I forgot to buy chili powder. As for appearance, this kitchari is a beautiful vibrant yellow thanks to the tumeric, and is studded with the small, dark, dots that are mustard seeds.

The texture is a little dry, but I think that came from my not adding enough water or cooking it too long in the damned pressure cooker. The second is most likely the case as I’d never before used one. Luckily, I’ll have plenty more opportunities to practice the kitchari and pressure cooking with my new 10 pound bag of basmati rice!

Mama Shah’s Kitchari

“In a pressure-cooker friendly pot, add two parts rice, and one parts dal. Add enough water where when you put the tip of your finger on the top of the rice and dal, the water comes to the first line on your middle finger. Add a pinch of salt and turmeric powder and just a dash of asafoetida powder (just a dash because it’s pretty potent). Cook in pressure cooker.

In order to add extra flavor, once the mixture is done cooking, you can season. To season, cook as follows:

In a pot, add the amount of oil necessary to caramelize onions. In the oil, add garlic, mustard and cumin seeds. Cook until the mustard seeds start popping. Add onions and cook until they are caramelized. Finally, add cooked rice and dal mixture and mix thoroughly.  Add chili powder to taste.

If you decide not to season and eat plain, you can eat rice and dal mixture with butter. You can also mix with plain yogurt.”

I’m scared of my pressure cooker!

As for the pressure cooker, that thing is damn scary! First of all, when you take it out of the package it comes with a long list warning of ways you can burn yourself. Then, when it’s on, the whole thing jiggles and makes a horrible whistling noise that is far more annoying than a tea kettle or even a train. And, when I tried to move this strange contraption off the burner, it started steaming even more and bubbling over and I was worried the whole thing was going to blow up any second – it was like trying to calm an errant two-year-old in the middle of a temper tantrum.

  • [...] morning and decided I just had to have one, but that’s what happened. Very soon after I made Mama Shah’s Kitchari and was so terrified of the pressure cooker that I described cooking with it like “trying to [...]

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