Kitchari, Ayurveda, & Seasons of Change

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Yes! At least the weather today makes it already seem it is. Overcast, slightly windy, low 60’s, and the fog rolling in at night and visiting till around mid-morning. As you may already know, I have a deep affinity for the season of Fall. Fall lovers understand. Those who don’t tend to wonder why. Understandably, everyone has their own season preference, and this is easiest for me to understand through the lens of Ayurveda. I’ve mentioned Ayurveda before in a few posts, referring to this great cookbook especially, and how it has affected me and changed my life in so many positive ways. It has really helped me develop compassion and understanding for others individual, unique needs, as well as my own, strengthening my intuitive capabilities for what my “dosha” needs. Ayurveda is all about making the connection with Nature. We are all linked to the greater cycles of Nature, so it serves us to change accordingly to the seasons.

A dosha increases naturally during seasons with similar qualities to itself (you can take a sweet and simple quiz here, if you are so inclined, to figure out your “dosha”/Ayurvedic constitution) . I’ll take myself for example: I tend to fall under the category of a “Vata” type, where dry, cool, climates in Fall are typically aggravating to Vata. According to Ayurveda, the typical characteristics of Vata are: generally quick actions, mobility; dryness, inclination toward constipation as a result; coldness, disliking cold weather, having cold feet/hands; lightness, generally underweight, light sleeper; roughness, rough skin, hair, crackling joints. The warm, moist nature of Spring is soothing and most balancing for Vata because it has opposite qualities of Fall. Therefore a Vata type must take extra balancing measures during Fall. A season naturally balances a dosha with opposite qualities to itself. So while it might take less effort on my part to be “balanced” in Spring, I really notice the amount of energy I put into staying “balanced” in Fall.
That’s probably a big part of why I make a huge deal about Fall. Knowing it is time to pull out all of the sweaters and coats that have been packed in the bottom of my drawers all year, I know I need the warmth. We might crave warm and heavy “comfort foods” such as chili and cornbread, oatmeal, or pot roasts (or in my case, something that has root vegetables or pumpkin in it…). This is probably why I love these types and kinds of food so much — it’s nice when that aha! moment appears! (No wonder I’m obsessed with pumpkin!) That’s why we bust out the tea kettles for hot tea, hot chocolate, and pumpkin spice lattes! For some reason cold salads, raw vegetables, or ice cream just don’t hit the spot. Yeah, right? Obviously. It’s pretty intuitive. It’s cold and windy and dry and leaves are blowin’ everywhere! This all makes sense because it is our bodies way of balancing us as nature changes from the heat of Summer to the coolness of Fall. Whether or not you’ve stopped to think about it, you already do many things to keep yourself balanced during the seasons. Season changes are times for potential dosha imbalances. We can’t control nature, but we can maintain balance by changing our lifestyle to the character of the seasons. Ayurveda simply brings greater awareness to other ways you can create seasonal balance.

Hell yeah, pumpkin pie! The properties of this beautiful invention can balance those light, airy, cold qualities of Fall with the sweet, moist, heavy, and rich flavor of pumpkin! No wonder we love it! See, it gives you a great excuse now…

If you’re not yet convinced, take this awesome poem uttered by a pilgrim in 1639 describing the hardships of the New World into consideration…

“For pottage and puddings and custard and pies, Our pumpkins and parsnip are common supplies: We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon, If it were not for pumpkins, we should be undoon”
Click here for a brief history on pumpkin pie and a great recipe for one also!

That being said, since the weather becomes colder in late Fall, it is beneficial for all types to favor warmer food and drinks. Plenty of rest and relaxation are also advisable (hard for me to follow when I want to go out and train for that half marathon… see, this is why I need Ayurveda) since Fall is an active time in which all of nature prepares for the upcoming Winter. General guidelines for Fall (via. Eat, Taste, Heal):
-favor warm food and drinks
-include more heavy and oily foods in your diet
-include warm oil massage in your morning routine
-cover your head on windy days
-avoid sleeping in cold drafts
-avoid fasting
-keep well-hydrated
Last week I made a batch of one of the most balancing and easily digestable complete meals frequently made in Ayurvedic cooking — kitchari (kitch-a-ree). It is great for all doshas, and excellent for detoxification and the de-aging of cells. It’s traditionally eaten during periods of fasting or cleansing (ie. panchakarma, a five actions cleanse). It’s truly nourishing to all tissues of the body. Combining protein and carbohydrate in a single dish, it is very simple to prepare and can be endlessly varied. Typically it is made with white basmati rice and mung dhal, but one can feel free to substitute other types of rice and lentils. I’d never made it before until last week (where have I been?) and I am so glad that I discovered how quick, easy, and most of all cheap it was to put together because I now know this is going to be a big staple in my diet this Fall. And you should make it a part of yours, too. It makes a pretty big batch so you could have it for leftovers for several days. It’s great for breakfast, lunch, or dinner!
Ok, and before I get on with the recipe, I have to give a little background as to why last week happened to be the week I made this. I was finally able to send in my application to apply for the Mount Madonna Institute of Ayurveda this month (after many months of compiling and getting the right paperwork in order), and I have been accepted! I am so thrilled and am thoroughly anticipating this exciting journey that awaits me. I have already had dreams about feeling so honored to be in the presence of one of the most well-known Ayurvedic practitioners such as Dr. Vasant Lad and Ram Harsh Singh. I simply cannot even convey what a delight it will be. As I thanked my boss for the letter of recommendation, he asked me if Ayurveda was correlated to kitchari and those types of foods. Apparently he eats kitchari all the time! I was pretty stoked to discover this, and it inspired me enough to finally make it. I think it’s pretty awesome. Anyway, I start the program next January and in the meantime I will be cooking up an Ayurvedic storm in the kitchen. More kitchari, lassi’s, and Indian-esque foods to come!
Here is the celebratory recipe!

Kitchari from Eat, Taste, Heal

1 cup white basmati rice, rinsed thoroughly
1/3 cup split mung dhal beans, rinsed thoroughly
2 1/2 cups filtered water
1 zucchini, chopped
1 small sweet potato, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons ghee (for dairy-free, substitute olive oil)
3 tablespoons shelled pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons chopped scallions
2 teaspoons curry powder
2 tablespoons Bragg’s amino acids (optional)
1/2 cup organic coconut milk
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon maple syrup
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Fresh cilantro, for garnish
Ghee, for garnish
1. Put the rinsed rice and mung dahl in a saucepan and add 2 1/2 cups filtered water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.
2. Add to the pan even layers of zucchini and sweet potato on top of the rice mixture. Cover the pan again and cook until the rice mixture has absorbed all the water, about 20 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, in a saute pan, heat the ghee over medium heat. Add the pumpkin seeds and scallions and cook, stirring, until the seeds turn light brown, about 4 minutes. Stir in the curry powder and then the Bragg’s until thoroughly combined. Stir in the coconut milk, lemon juice, and maple syrup and cook for 2 minutes more.
4. When the rice mixture is done, pour in the scallion mixture and stir to blend well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with cilantro and ghee and serve immediately.
P.S. Taken By Trees East of Eden was the perfect soundtrack to listen to while making this, just in case you wanted some musical inspiration to accompany you. It has a mix of Scandinavian and Middle Eastern influence, as the album was recorded over a six day period in Pakistan. Infusing some of the cultural beats, exotic strings, and rhythms of the country, the indie-pop soul that Victoria Bergsman (also of The Concretes) delivers is still distinct. She also does a great cover of Animal Collective’s “My Girls”, twisting it into “My Boys”. It’s beautiful, hypnotic, danceable, and inspirational music (at least for me, anyway). I feel as though I am transported to another country when I listen to it… it influenced my kitchari cooking skills in a very good way.

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