Rice and Mung Bean Porridge with Vegetables (Kitchari)

I make porridge a lot. When I feel under the weather and need something light on the stomach, I make a simple rice porridge. When I do not have the time to cook, I make a big pot of rice porridge and have it over the week with various toppings: dried fruits, nuts, and seeds for breakfast or ginger, scallions, soy sauce, sesame oil, and ground white pepper for dinner. In fact, I've written about the various styles of Chinese porridge here and shared a recipe on the Protest Fuel zine (which you can order here). 

Porridge is good for anytime of the day, especially in the colder seasons when a warm bowl of food can bring so much comfort. This winter, I've been making an Indian-style rice and mung bean porridge known as kitchari that I learned about from Ayurveda cookbooks. This complete one-pot meal, according to The Everyday Ayurveda Cookbook by Kate O'Donnell, is the balancing staple food of Ayurveda, an ancient system of holistic healing which originated in India, that nourishes and cleanses the body.

Cooked with different combinations of spices, kitchari is used in the Ayurvedic practice of cleansing by eating a mono-diet for a suitable period of time to allow the digestive system to rest, reset, and detox. Yes, that means eating kitchari three times a day for a few days to a few weeks! The rice and mung bean combination is believed to be a complete protein that will keep the body energized and the spices added to support digestion. 

Following the guides in the Ayurveda books I have, I did the kitchari cleanse for about a week this month in anticipation of spring and I felt great! Going into it, I was worried that I would not make it even for a day but I was feeling so good that the intended one-day mini cleanse turned into three days and then seven days! Towards the end, I supplemented the cleanse with raw nuts and fresh fruit to sustain my energy levels at work but I never once felt starved or deprived. 

For me, it was a much-needed break from all the heavy and rich foods eaten over the winter holidays. It reminded me of the time when I was having simple rice porridge to support my IBS recovery process. This post is not a prescription for a kitchari cleanse but an invitation to include something beneficial for the body to your everyday diet. It's easy to make and delicious too! My husband and I eat it about once a week, adding seasonal vegetables for variation. 

Are you ready for spring? It is hands down my favorite season! The farmers market will have so much more to offer and the air filled with a sense of anticipation. Check out my Spring Discovery series for plenty of vegetable love and go here for more ways to enjoy porridge. 

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Rice and Mung Bean Porridge with Vegetables (Kitchari)
This is an easy one-pot meal with seasonal vegetables of your choice. Note that yellow mung dal, which can be found in most Indian grocery stores, is made from mung beans that have been skinned and split and should not be confused with yellow split peas. The dish is finished with a tempering of whole spices at the end. Tempering, or tadka, is a technique widely used in Indian cooking in which whole or ground spices are heated in oil to release their aromas and flavors. Adapted from The Everyday Ayurveda Cookbook by Kate O'Donnell. Serves 4 to 6.

6 cups water
1 cup white basmati rice
1/2 cup yellow split mung dal, soaked for at least an hour or overnight
1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 cup root vegetables or squash, like carrots, potato, and butternut, cut to 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup leafy greens, like spinach and Swiss chard, roughly chopped
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Fresh cilantro, roughly chopped, for garnish

FOR THE TEMPERING
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

In a large pot, bring 5 cups of water to a boil. Rinse the rice and dal until the water is clear, about 2 to 3 rinses, and drain. Add them to the pot together with the spices and bring the mixture to a boil again. 

Turn the heat down to a simmer. Add hard vegetables like carrots, potato, and butternut. Stir once or twice to mix the ingredients. Cover the pot partially and simmer for 30 minutes without stirring. If the mixture is dry and not submerged in liquid, add 1 cup of water without stirring. 

Add quick-cooking vegetables like leafy greens on top. Cover partially and continue to simmer for another 10 minutes. 

In the meantime, make the tempering. In a pan on medium heat, warm the coconut oil until it is fully melted. Add the cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds and cook until the seeds pop, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and pour into the kitchari. Add salt, stir well, turn off the heat, and let stand, covered, for about 5 minutes. 

Ladle into bowls and serve immediately. Garnish with fresh cilantro.