By Dr. Siri Chand Kaur Khalsa
When I had the wonderful blessing to spend time at the 3HO Winter Solstice Celebration in the company of many elevated souls, we did yoga, meditated and prayed together in the early morning hours and ate a very simple diet consisting of a small selection of food. By the end of the week, my digestion was simply stellar and I was feeling a renewed vitality with increased mental clarity.
One of the main staples of the diet at the 3HO Solstice Celebrations is kitchari. Kitchari is a central aspect in Ayurvedic cooking and is composed of mung beans, basmati rice, spices, and vegetables. The mung beans and basmati rice have the energetic qualities of being cooling and sweet and are nourishing for all tissues in the body.
Used in times of illness or for simplifying the work of digestion during panchakarma or cleansing, kitchari offers an opportunity for the internal digestive fire, or “agni,” to be kindled and for cells to detoxify. When agni is functioning well, courage, clarity and purity are cultivated and this supports our awareness surrounding the choices we make on a daily basis for our meals. Generally considered balancing for all doshas (vata, pitta and kapha), the vegetables and spices in kitchari can be adjusted to support the different doshas as needed.
“Simple food is very simple. The simpler you eat, the healthier you become. It is very difficult to eat simple food. Therefore, in therapy, there is always a mono diet. Have just one thing to eat.” Yogi Bhajan July 12, 1983
In the modern age, we are inundated with many choices in all arenas of our lives. Going to the supermarket is a strong sensory experience. New products are arriving on the shelves daily with promises of “better health.” We are flooded with images of different meal choices in the media and while we can be grateful for this diversity, taking the time to simplify has many benefits. The bulk food sections at natural grocery stores generally have rice and mung beans well stocked and the vegetables can be obtained from local farmers’ markets.
Staying on the perimeter of the supermarket generally allows for the healthiest choices. Another aspect in eating simply is that we can decrease the carbon footprint created from the elaborate packaging of prepared foods. These simple acts are cumulative and generate kindness to Mother Earth. A healthy physical body is the foundation through which awareness and meditation can occur.
Consider a trial of kitchari and take note of your digestion, bowel movements, chronic ailments and emotional states. Once you start noticing changes with the shift in your diet, you may find a new appreciation for other areas of life that could benefit from simplifying. Keeping vitality as we age is in direct proportion to how well agni is digesting what we have eaten and thus allowing for proper elimination. Agni is affected by emotional eating, too much food, poor food combinations and irregular eating habits. Becoming weighed down by undigested food and the emotional commotion of the past offers us little benefit in the aging process.
“If you do not control your food habits in the first eighteen years and you also miss the second eighteen years, after thirty-six, the body wastes most of its time just digesting food. It is very hard for it to eliminate the food. It is not important what you eat; it is very important what you eliminate. Whatever you eat is okay. But in twenty-four hours it should systematically come out.” Yogi Bhajan, 7/12/83
5 Tips for Simplifying at Mealtimes:
- Do not cook with a product that has more than five ingredients on the label.
- Visit the local farmer’s market for organic produce: cook affordably with seasonal vegetables.
- Use whole grains and legumes as protein sources.
- Fill the stomach 1/3 full of food, 1/3 full of water and leave the rest empty for digestion to occur optimally.
- Avoid snacking and eat only when hungry at normal meal times.
Yogi Tea Kitchari
1 cup organic basmati rice
1 cup organic split yellow mung dal
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 teaspoon turmeric
3 tablespoons ghee
5 cardamom pods crushed
1 stick (about 4 inches) cinnamon
2 teaspoon tamari soy or ½ teaspoon natural sea salt
1/2 cup organic broccoli pieces
1/2 cup organic carrots
2 tablespoons chopped organic cilantro
shredded unsweetened coconut
1 tablespoon kelp powder (optional)
2 cloves garlic (optional)
1 chopped onion (optional)
Soak mung beans several hours or overnight. If using whole mung beans, they will need to soak in water for 12 hours minimum to aid in digestion. Sprouting is also an option with whole mung bungs and can ease digestion for those with more vata predominance. Rinse the mung dal and rice.
Heat cast iron skillet over medium heat and add ghee, garlic, onion, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, peppercorns, turmeric and salt and sauté for several minutes. In 6 quart stockpot, stir the mung beans and rice with the spice mixture and add 8 cups of water (can be less water for thicker version) and bring to boil. Turn down to low heat and cook gently until rice and mung beans are tender. If using split mung beans, this will take about 30-45 minutes, and longer for whole mung beans. Adjust the amounts as needed for larger groups.
Top with grated ginger, extra ghee, cilantro and coconut. Garlic and onion are pungent and can be aggravating to pitta body types and are sometimes not included in Ayurvedic cooking due to their rajasic properties. Yogi Bhajan included garlic and onion in many recipes and let us know that with our sadhana and yogic lifestyle that a bit of grounding through these foods was okay.
Recipe adapted from The Golden Temple Vegetarian Cookbook by Yogi Bhajan, 1978 Hawthorn Press and Ayurvedic Cooking for Self Healing by Dr. Vasant Lad, 1994 Ayurvedic Press.
Dr. Siri Chand Kaur Khalsa maintains a private medical practice in Phoenix, Arizona. From the wisdom given to us by Yogi Bhajan, she teaches the fundamental idea that food is in fact medicine that can sustain our physical, mental, and spiritual bodies as we move through our time on Earth. From the organic farms where we get our vegetables to sustainably preparing healthy food, to the ancient science of Ayurveda, her writings are created to offer ongoing critique of the often conflicting information available on these topics. www.luminousfoods.com