Kitchari or Kitcharee (pronounced kich-uh-ree) is a traditional food used in Ayurveda as a cleanser. It's made with a combination of mung dal and basmati rice, and something that my mom used to make for breakfast all the time. It's rich in nutrients and a great savory meal to add to your list of "go to" foods for eating clean.
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What is kitchari?
Kitchari is an Ayurvedic dish made with rice and moong dal, and a range of vegetables and spices. On rainy days, my mother would roast moong (or mung) dal, and then cook it in a pressure cooker along with rice and several vegetables.
Kitchari is also called khichdi, bisibelabath, sukhpawani, pongal in different parts of India and has its origins in Sanskrit (khiccā, meaning ‘a dish made with rice and pulses’) The combination of rice, lentils and spices helps with digestion, and nourishes your body with all the essential nutrients. It is considered tri-doshic as well. As a result, this is one of the most common staple dishes in many homes across India.
💭 Why you'll love this recipe
- Versatile, great for meal-prep: I've always had kitchari for breakfast, but it can easily make a great lunch, or dinner. It's also versatile in the types of veggies you can add.
- Naturally vegan and minimal ingredients: Though kitchari is served with a dollop of ghee, the recipe is vegan as written.
- Ayurvedic staple: The softness of this dish makes it easy for digestion, and can work as a "detox" since it is also highly nutritious (in both proteins and other nutrients!)
📋 Ingredients and notes
You'll need mung dal (or moong dal), basmati rice, vegetables of your choice, and a few basic Indian spices (mustard seeds, cumin seeds, turmeric, ground coriander, and ginger paste) to make this dish.
Notes and substitutions
- Mung dal is the small yellow lentil found inside the green mung bean - since one of the primary benefits is digestion, the lentils are preferred over the beans. In a pinch, you can substitute this with red lentils found in your grocery store.
- Homemade kitchari spice mix consists of ginger, turmeric, cumin, coriander and mustard seeds. We use both ground and whole spices to enhance the overall flavor but also for its detoxifying and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Vegetable medley is highly customizable - I typically use a mix of seasonal vegetables and almost always have carrots and peas. You can use fresh or frozen veggies. I omit onions and garlic in this recipe so it can be tri-doshic, but you can add these in as well.
📖 Step-by-step instructions (stove top)
Start by washing the rice and lentils
I typically sift through the rice and lentils with my hands to see if there are any minor impurities in there, then wash both my rice and my mung dal separately at least 2-3 times. This is done to remove the excess starch in the rice and clean the lentils.
This is especially important if you're using a polished rice like basmati (which is not the typical variant used in India). Wash until the water runs mostly clear.
Sauté the spices to release their flavors
Heat vegetable or coconut oil (or fat of choice) in a large skillet. Then, add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and ground coriander to the oil and stir until fragrant, about a minute. Then, add the minced ginger and turmeric and stir to combine for about 15-20 seconds.
Add rice, lentils and vegetables with water to finish cooking the dish
Add the the vegetables and sauté quickly. Then, add the rice and vegetables along with water and a pinch of salt. Bring all of this to a boil. Then, reduce the heat and cook covered, on low heat, for about 30 minutes. Note that this yields a kitchari that has somewhere between a risotto and porridge-like consistency. If you want it more discrete, I suggest reducing the water by half a cup.
Check at the 30 minute mark to see if the rice and lentils are cooked through and the dish has a porridge like consistency. If it's done, you can remove the dish from heat. If not, continue cooking and checking in 5 minute increments until cooked.
Adjust salt to your taste (if needed), and garnish with fresh cilantro. Serve hot!
📖 Instant Pot Kitchari Recipe
If you're using an Instant Pot or a pressure cooker, the process is all the more easier!
- Start by washing the rice and mung dal until the water runs clear.
- Then, set your Instant Pot to the sauté setting. Add oil of choice followed by mustard seeds, cumin seeds and ground coriander. Stir a bit to release the natural flavors of the spices (about a minute). Then, add the minced ginger and turmeric and stir to combine.
- Next, add washed rice, mung dal, along with a cup of vegetables of your choice as well as 3.5 to 4 cups of water. Close the lid and pressure cook on high pressure for roughly 8 minutes for a well cooked porridge-like consistency. Then, quick release pressure after 5 minutes. Garnish with cilantro and serve hot!
Note: if you're using an Instant Pot to make kitchari, it will be more porridge-like. Do not reduce the water in this instance, since Instant Pot uses steam and pressure cooking and reducing the water might burn the bottom of your food!
👩🏽🍳 The Kitchari Cleanse
Though kitchari has its stronghold in ancient Indian tradition, it has been made wildly popular these days due to the Kitchari Cleanse. I'm not a fan of fad diets and cleanses generally, but the kitchari cleanse is basically what we did at home anytime we got sick (except, of course, we didn't call it that).
Modern kitchari cleanses start with a week where you cut back on sugar, coffee, alcohol and other processed foods to prepare for the cleanse. Then, for about a week, you typically consume something high in fiber for breakfast and kitchari for both lunch and dinner as well as 8 to 10 servings of water to stay hydrated. When I've done this in the past, I've slowly weaned off kitchari over the next few days. Pretty straightforward!
If you're interested in learning more about the Ayurvedic philosophy associated with this cleanse, and find out more about your doshas, there are many quizzes online!
🍴 Serving and storage suggestions
This dish is so, so easy to make a large batch for convenience. You can store kitchari in the fridge for up to 4 days, in an airtight container (make sure to cool it to room temperature first). Then, when you're ready to eat, just pop it in the microwave for a few.
If you need to store it longer-term, allow the kitchari to cool to room temperature, throw it in a freezer bag or airtight container. I suggest portioning them into individual sizes, and make sure to leave an inch of space on top since the liquids in the dish will likely expand. You can freeze it for up to 3 months easily!
When you're ready to eat it, I recommend thawing it first (either move it to the fridge the night before, or let it sit on a counter for at least an hour). Then, just go ahead and heat it up in a pot or warm in a microwave with a damp paper towel on top. Good to go!
If you liked this recipe, don't forget to check out my other Indian recipes:
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- 1 tablespoon oil, vegetable oil or coconut oil preferred
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds, optional
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 inch ginger piece, grated (1 teaspoon of ginger paste)
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1.5 cups mixed vegetables, I used beans, carrots, and peas
- 1 cup mung dal, or split mung beans
- ½ cup rice, see notes
- 1 teaspoon salt, adjust to taste
- 5 cups water, see notes for adjustment
- 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro, for garnish
- Rinse half a cup of rice and a cup of dal separately at least 2-3 times to get rid of dirt and excess starch.
- Heat oil in a medium pot or deep skillet and add a teaspoon each of mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and ground coriander and give it a quick stir. Then, add a teaspoon each of ginger and turmeric and sauté for a few seconds.
- Add 1.5 cups of mixed vegetables of your choice and stir it together with the spices. Finally, add the the washed rice and dal along with 5 cups of water and a pinch of salt, and bring this to a boil. Then, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for roughly 30 minutes. Check at 30 minutes to observe the consistency - you ideally want a porridge like texture.
- Once the right consistency has been achieved, season with additional salt (as needed) and garish with cilantro. Serve hot.
- Traditional Ayurvedic kitchari does not include aromatics like onion or garlic. If you want to add those to the dish, start by sautéing the aromatics first before adding the vegetables!
- You can use any combination of vegetables or even leave them out if you desire. I use green beans, carrots, and peas since these are the ones my mother uses.
- Note about the rice: traditional kitchari, or khichdi, tends to use non-polished rice (e.g. Sona Masoori). However, some of these rice varieties are harder to come by in the US, so basmati rice is a good substitute (though it does reduce the digestive benefits a bit since it's polished). You can also visit an Indian store to see if they have Sona Masoori.
- Note on consistency: this recipe yields a traditional porridge like consistency. If you want it to be a bit more solid, I suggest reducing the water by half a cup. I don't recommend using the Instant Pot to make a kitchari if you prefer yours more solid!