With his ageless axiom 'Let your food be your medicine and your medicine, your food,' Hippocrates, regarded as '˜the father of medicine' might as well be referring to kichari. This delicious mainstay of Indian cuisine consists of split yellow mung beans called dahl, and white basmati rice cooked together with ghee (clarified butter) and mild spices. In fact, kichadi may well be the most perfect therapeutic recipe of all because it detoxifies the entire system, while kindling the body's digestive fires called '˜agni.' Unlike other fasts or restricted diets, following an exclusive diet of kichadi with the addition of some steamed seasonal vegetables and fresh fruits and perhaps a few tablespoons of yogurt mid-day, supplies all the bodies' nutritional needs and will cause no nutritional deficiencies.
A yogic sage who at the time of our meeting was in his early 90's, adhered to an ascetic practices of an exclusive year round diet of kichari. He was physically fit, mentally alert and could out distance all of his younger students' speed in walking on the beach. Every ayurvedic doctor in fact all people of India are raised to appreciate the benefits of kichari to enhance the treatment of disease. Thus it is widely prescribed as the primary food in panch karma, ayurvedic cleansing therapy. It's no wonder that enjoying a breakfast of freshly prepared kichari at a Northern California retreat center, the a respected Ayurvedic doctor, Vasant Ladd exclaimed that this was not only food but also medicine.
Kichari, called Indian dahl, is served in all Indian restaurants and is a mainstay of traditional Indian households. All traditional East Indian people know that when one is weakened or sick they should eat only kichari for a speedy recovery.
The reason is simple; since it is generally recognized by systems of natural medicine throughout the world, that the majority of all diseases begins in the stomach with faulty digestion. In areas of the world were food is scarce, it would be unthinkable to treat diseases caused by inadequate nutrition with raw foods, liquid fasts of vegetable and fruit juice as these would not supply the adequate amount of protein and complex carbohydrates and would only cause more degenerative wasting. However, kichari would be ideal for such individuals, being an easily assimilated porridge of rice and beans. In the West, where food is abundant and excess is more likely to be the underlying cause of disease, raw foods and juice fasting may be more appropriate as an initial fast to eliminate and detoxify excess waste clogging the circulatory vessels and organs of the body, however as a long-term diet it creates deficiency weakness which kichari would not. Further, for most busy people, extreme fasting regimes are impractical and the bouts of incapacitating hypoglycemic episodes along the way can be a challenge. Kichari on the other hand achieves the same eliminating and detoxifying goals in a smoother, more balanced way, allowing one to continue their normal daily routine and without any of the concomitant bouts of low blood sugar. Thus kichari diet is safer and provides a more balanced, gradual approach to detoxification while maintaining adequate amounts of required complex carbohydrates and protein in the diet without causing nutritional deficiencies.
Iin India, where its indigenous medicine known as Ayurveda, is deemed '˜the mother of natural healing,' there is a millennia old tradition that if one eats only kichari for at least three weeks, it will cure all diseases. The reasons as stated are that kichari is a delicious, light and easily digestible food that supplies all one's nutritional needs while affording the internal organs the opportunity to recover from dietary excesses and/or deficiencies that are the foundation for disease.
Few of us are sufficiently in touch with how food affects our mental states and emotions. Although, increasingly individuals are recognizing the hyped feeling that comes from consuming too much sugar, the heavy, dull feeling from an excess of dairy, fats and red meat or the ungrounded , spaced and unfocussed effects from too much raw foods, vegetable and fruit juices. An entire book as been written describing the depressive state called '˜sugar blues' that occurs as withdrawal symptoms from excess sugar consumption. Volumes have been written about this latter phenomenon but now there is an entire disease complex popularly known as '˜Syndrome X' which is a constellation of conditions involving possible erratic blood sugar fluctuations, high blood pressure, overweight, particularly with weight carried around the middle, abnormalities of blood lipids, particularly triglycerides and gout. Kichari ameliorates all of these physical conditions by balancing body and blood chemistry and one of the first notable experiences is a greater sense of inner calm and stress relief. For many, this can be felt in as little as three days after beginning the kichari diet.
Over three decades of clinical herbal and acupuncture practice in Northern California I and my daughter, Shasta Tierra have prescribed kichari to our patients. We have corroborated ageless Indian wisdom that an exclusive diet of kichari enables and enhances all other natural therapies and can be used with great benefit for a wide range of diseases from colds and flu, depression, diabetes, gynecological disease, cardio-vascular disease, arthritis, digestive disorders, liver disease, arthritis and cancer. Shasta Tierra, who is an acupuncturist and herbalist, working in San Jose, California is locally well known for prescribing kichari both for the treatment of disease but also to promote fitness and general health.
Many are amazed how such a simple, easily prepared dish with so many health benefits such as kichari possesses can also be so delicious and satisfying.
An exclusive diet of kichari for at least one to several weeks is the safest and best way to lose unwanted pounds. One respected martial arts and qi gong exponent uses kichari as his personal self healing method for healing and safe and effective weight control. He would reduce weight initially with an exclusive diet of kichari, after achieving the desired weight; he might then only eat kichari for one or two meals each day for ongoing maintenance. In this way he is able to lose and then maintain his ideal weight while continuing with his physically strenuous and demanding daily workout schedule.
In Ayurveda the human constitution is evaluated according to the three basic body types, Vata - sensitive, nerve oriented, Pitta '“ fire oriented and Kapha '“ water oriented. This is called tridosha and is the cornerstone for all ayurvedic treatment. Ayurveda teaches that each individual is naturally born with a predominance of any one or a combination of any of these three basic types and that this dominance is reflected in one's overall constitution, personality as well as their day to day climatic and dietary preferences and aversions. Thus the term '˜dosha' means '˜fault' because an imbalance of any of these is deemed the cause of disease. Ayurvedic treatment then goes on to prescribe dietary, herbal, activity and lifestyle changes that are specifically intended to restore balance or tridosha.
This ancient medical theory has its modern scientific counterpart with the more contemporary theory of somatypes developed in the 1940's by American psychologist, William Sheldon[i]. This is a respected scientific principle of physiological and psychological medicine probably with unintended marked similarities with the Ayurveda tridosha system. Sheldon corroborated three body types, endomorph, mesomorph and ectomorph with human temperament types. These are described below with their Ayurvedic tridosha counterparts:
The endomorph which corresponds to Ayurvedic Kapha has a more phlegmatic, naturally rounder shaped body with a greater tendency towards stockiness along with congestive and digestive disorders. They are more prone to conditions and diseases exhibiting an excess fat, fluids and mucus. Their complexion and hair is lustrous and more oily. Temperamentally they are slower responders but with a tendency towards greater tolerance and pleasurable self-indulgence. Negatively they can be succumb to greater rigidity and '˜stuck' manners of being. The stereotype is 'the fat, jolly person.' This is indeed a stereotype and only represents a tendency.
The mesomorph or Pitta type is centered on muscle and fiery energy. Sheldon says that they are centered on muscle rather than the fat tissue of the endomorph and the circulatory system. Similar to pitta dosha, they tend to be of a more medium build with a tendency to be impetuous and quick, courageous, active, dynamic, assertive and competitive. In contrast, while the kapha individual has greater stamina and endurance for the long haul, pitta types tend towards more dynamic bold initiation and risk taking. The stereotype is: : 'type A personality,' 'jock' or 'GI Joe.'
The ecotomorph or Vata type is thinner, more hypersensitive, introverted and moody. Thus they are metaphorically compared to air with less involvement with the physical act of doing and more with the mental process of ideation. Thus ideally the vata type is more likely to be the '˜seer,' or visionary or negatively the one tending towards deranged mental states. The stereotype is the 'hypersensitive individual,' 'thin skinned.'
Correspondingly an ayurvedic doctor, will prescribe diet, herbs and lifestyle according to one's dosha imbalance. It is possible to further fine tune the basic recipe according to ingredients, proportions, consistency and spices based on one's dosha propensity. The result is the same, which is the ability of kichari to restore metabolic balance while eliminating toxins called '˜ama' and kindling '˜agni' which is digestive or metabolic life fire.
One basic kichari recipe is as follows:
1 cup split mung dal (yellow)
2 cups of white basmati rice
2 tsp of ghee (clarified butter)
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp of coriander powder
1/2 tsp of cumin powder
1/2 tsp of whole cumin seeds
1/4 tsp of rock salt
8 cups of water (6 cups when using a pressure cooker)
This is suitable for all body types. However for those who may be more of a kapha or vata type, one may want to make a more heating version of kichari by adding:
1 inch of fresh minced ginger root
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 scant pinch of hing (asafetida)
and either red chilli or black pepper omitting or limiting the inclusion of dairy or yogurt
The pitta type on the other hand would use less warming spices and slightly more dairy and yogurt while the vata type uses slightly more warming spices with the addition of dairy or yogurt.
Method of preparation
Wash the rice and dal together to eliminate the excess starch which is done when the water runs clear. Add eight cups of water and cook the covered rice and dal until it becomes soft and tender. Saute the mustard seeds, whole cumin seeds, hing, cumin powder, coriander powder and turmeric together with the ghee in a separate sauce pan for a few minutes or until the aroma begins to permeated the air. Stirr the cooked rice and dal into the pan and cook until it is done. Add rock salt, and the cilantro leaves just before serving.
Another recipe is as follows:
2 cups of white basmati rice
1 cup split yellow mung beans
8 to 12 cups of water, depending on how soupy the resultant final product
2 tsp of ghee
1 tsp of ground cumin seed
1 scant tsp of coriander seed
1/4 to 1/2 tsp of turmeric powder
3 to 5 whole cardamom pods
1 to 2 tsp of powdered ginger
pinch of rock salt or powdered kelp
pinch of hing (asafetida)
Again this is a more heating kichari useful for individuals with a tendency to gas and bloating and weaker digestion.
Rice is universally regarded as one of the most perfectly balanced foods. The difference between naturally brown and white rice is that brown rice has all of the out skin or bran intact while white rice has been mechanically polished to remove part or all of the bran depending on one's digestive capability. Japanese Macrobiotics favors the use of brown rice but they also advocate chewing each mouthful of food 80 to 100 times. For most this is extremely impractical and overly rigid especially since many older people may not even retain all of their teeth for proper chewing. White rice has less of the whole food nutritional elements of brown rice but it is better assimilated. Further, by adding beans or other proteinaceous foods to white rice what is lost nutritionally is mostly replaced.
Basmati rice is preferred because it is the best nutritionally and the most delicious variety. It is more expensive because it yields less per acre than all other types of rice. Assuming that one is taking kichari because they are in a weakened state and must have food that is easily digested, polished white basmati rice would be the best to use.
However, recognizing that just as our outer physical body must be moderately challenged to develop one might use more whole grains such as brown rice to maintain digestive strength. The rule is that when one is weaker white rice used with kichari is best. However, to develop and maintain digestive power one can make kichari with whole brown basmati rice or a judicious mixture of both.
As an aside, in rural villages throughout Asia, people would bring their rice to the local miller. Depending on their need, they could specify how much of the bran to leave or remove in the milling process. For older people or individuals with weaker digestion, more or all of the bran is polished away.
First: 1/4 cups split yellow mung beans
1/2 cups of rinsed white basmati rice
1 cup of chopped or grated carrots
1 cup of chopped parsnips
1 tbsp of chopped fresh ginger.
Combine these together and cook in a stock pot covered. Bring to a boil and then reduce to simmer.
Second: 3 tbsp of ghee
1/2 cup of chopped onions
1 tsp of mustard seeds
1/2 tsp of dry roasted coriander powder
1/2 tsp of dry roasted cumin seed powder
(dry roasting is simply to put these powders onto a dry skiller until the slightly brown)
1/2 tsp of turmeric powder
1 chopped or torn dried chili pepper
1/2 tsp of fresh ground black pepper
Heat the ghee in second pan and then add the mustard seeds, after they begin to pop, add the onions and spices and fry until slightly brown.
Combine everything together, ideally into the second pan.
Add 1/2 tsp of rock salt
1/2 lemon or lime juice, freshly squeezed
3 to 5 fresh basil leaves (or one can use chopped coriander leaves).
Serves 4 to 6 people.
The following two preparations are from Secrets of Ayurveda by Maya Tiwiri published by Lotus Press
8 c water
1 1/2 c white basmati rice
1/2 cup yellow split mung beans
1 tsp powdered rock salt
1/2 tsp ajwan seeds,
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp ghee.
Bring the water to a boil in a large stainless steel pot (never use aluminum or a water soluble metal when preparing food). Wash the rice and beans and add to the boiling water, along with the salt. Cover and simmer on medium-low heat for 25 minutes. In a small cast-iron skillet, dry roast the seeds for a few minutes over low heat, until they are golden brown. Grind them into coarse pieces using a mortar and pestle or a suribachi. Heat the ghee in the same skillet and add the crushed seeds. Sizzle for 2 minutes, then pour into the rice and beans mixture. Cover and continue cooking on low heat for another 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let the kichari sit for 10 minutes before serving.
1 tbsp dried tamarind
10 c of water
1 1/2 brown basmati rice
1/2 cup whole green mung bean
1 tsp powdered rock salt
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tbsp black peppercorns
2 tbsp of ghee
Soak the tamarind in 1/2 cup of hot water for 5 hours. Bring the 10 cups of water to a boil. Wash the rice and beans and add to the boiling water along with the sat. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 40 minutes. Rast the seeds and peppercors in a small cast-iron skillet for a few minutes or until they crackle. Heat the ghee in the same skillet and then add the crushed seeds and immediately pour into the rice and bean misture. Use a small spoon to mash the tamarind into a pulp and add, along with the soaking water and roughage, to the rice and bean mixture. Stire, cover and continue cooking on low heat for an additional 15 minutes, until the Kichari becomes a thick porridge. Remove from heat and let cool for 15 minutes. Remove the tamarind roughage from the kichari before serving.
For vata and pitta types the following is recommended:
Basmati Rice Kichari
1 1/2 cu white basmati rice
1/2 c yellow split mung beans
1/2 tsp powdered rock salt
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp ghee
Bring the water to a boil in a large stainless steel pot. Wash the rice and beans and add to boiling water along with the salt. Cover and simmer on low heat for 20 minutes. In a small cast-iron skillet, heat the ghee and add the cumin seeds. When the seeds turn golden brown, pour the mixture into the kichari. Stir, cover and continue to simmer for an additional 5 minutes over low heat. Serve while still warm.
Maya Tiwiri suggests that both Vata and Pitta types may substitute equal amounts of bulgur, cous cous or jasmine rice for the white basmati rice. Vata types may also add a pinch of asafetida along with the salt.
For Kapha types she suggests the following:
5 c water
1 1/2 cup millet
1/c c yellow split mung beans
1/4 tsp powdered rock salt
5 fresh or dried neem leaves
1 tsp corn oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
Prepare similar to the preceeding recipes.
Following is a personal favorite recipe that admits of many variations. It was developed by my former student and herbalist Darlena L'Orange.
1 cup of split yellow mung beans 1 cup of white basmati rice
1 tablespoon (or less) of ghee or sunflower oil 1 tsp of cumin seeds
1/2 tsp of cumin powder
1 tsp of coriander powder
1 tsp of turmeric
1/2 tsp of mustard seeds
1/4/ -1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (optional) 1/2 tsp of salt
1 tsp of fresh ginger (peeled and grated)
6 inch piece burdock root (peeled and chopped) 1 parsnip sliced or turnip roughly chopped
1 bunch of dark leafy greens (kale, chard, or dandelion greens which are slightly bitter)
Ideally, the beans and rice are better cooked separately. They should both be presoaked overnight. With beans I like to add a 4 to 6 inch piece of kombu seaweed which can even shorten the soaking process to as little as two hours. Besides adding a rich abundance trace minerals that are naturally found in good quality sea vegetables, soaking and cooking beans will also shorten the soaking process.
Warm ghee or oil in a pot, add cumin, coriander, turmeric, and mustard seeds. Sauté for a few minutes while stirring regularly. Add beans and rice and stir with spices, Add 6 cups of water and salt, ginger, and burdock. Let cook until beans and rice are very soft (30-45min). Add veggies and cook another 15 min (you may need to add more water depending on the consistency you like.)
These are only a few of the many was to adjust or augment the basic rice and beans kichari. One can consider making more like a soup or porridge or a somewhat thicker stew, possibly serving with a whole wheat chapatti (flat, unyeasted wheat paddy or with the addition of a few tablespoons of yogurt. Just as the grains can be varied one can also vary the type of beans. For instance green mung can be used, or black beans.
The fundamental combination of rice and beans, which form the basis for Kichari is also the basic therapeutic diet of many traditional cultures worldwide:
Ghee or clarified butter is the secret of delicious French cooking. It is the clear oil with the more saturated fats removed from butter. It restores vitality, mental clarity, clears the skin and enhances digestion. All of these attributes along with its delicious buttery flavor, make it the most desirable of all cooking oils.
It is easily made in the kitchen. Simply obtain a pound or two of unsalted butter. Place it in a skillet atop a low flame. The butter will melt to a liquid and eventually the fat solids will congeal and settle to the bottom. Be careful to not burn it. After a period of time, carefully decant the clear golden butter oil (ghee) into a wide mouthed jar to which one should have a metal spoon to absorb some of the heat and prevent the jar from cracking. Discard the white fat solids.
Ghee does not need to be refrigerated and will keep unrefrigerated virtually indefinitely. One can therefore store it in a jar on or near the cooking area.
The Spices of Kichari
The three spices turmeric, cumin and coriander are the basis of Indian curry mixes. Besides adding wonderful exotic flavors to foods, these also have potent medicinal properties.
The Healing Power of Turmeric
Turmeric (curcuma longa), which imparts a wonderful yellow color to food, is one of the most potent herbs for the liver, digestive and cardiovascular systems. It is also a powerful antioxidant. Counteracting free-radical damage or oxidation implicated with the aging process and in all chronic degenerative conditions including arthritis and cancer. Think of oxidation as something akin to cellular, organic '˜rust,' with similar negative degenerating effects on the body as rust has to metals. Turmeric, which has been used for thousands of years to impart a wonderful flavor and golden color to meats, poultry, grains and vegetables, is high in polyphenols called curcuminoids that have been shown to be more effective than vitamins C and E, beta-carotene and even the OPC;s (Oligomeric Proanthocyanidins) found in grapeseed and pine bark, making it one of the most effective herbal antioxidants.
Inflammation implicated in osteoarthritis and a wide number of chronic degenerative conditions ranging from cardiovascular disease to Alzheimer's, are caused by prostaglandins, which are produced through the cyclo-oxygenase 1 and 2 (COX-1 and COX-2) enzyme systems. Prostaglandins are known to be over-expressed in inflammation, but certain prostaglandins are beneficial and protective.
Many drugs advertised and sold for osteoarthritis are COX-2 inhibitors and the best known are celecoxib (Celebrex) and rofecoxib (Vioxx). They are considered a better and more potent version of the traditional Non-steroidal Anti-Inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. All of these relieve pain by reducing inflammation. However, they are all known to have serious long term side adverse effects especially on the liver.
Turmeric offers all the beneficial effects of the COX-2 inhibitors but it is beneficial to the liver without any of the harmful side effects of the pharmaceutical drugs. A study from the UK found turmeric able to inhibit the production of COX-2 making it a very effective and safer natural alternative for a wide variety of joint ailments including arthritis.
Acetaminophen is the active ingredient in a variety of over-the-counter drugs, most notably Tylenol. Acetaminophen overdose is the leading cause of calls to the Poison Control Centers across the United States. It is estimated that acetaminophen poisoning calls exceed 100,000 per year. Studies indicate that acetaminophen overdose results in over 56,000 injuries, 2,500 hospitalizations, and an estimated 450 deaths per year.
The most significant risk involving acetaminophen is acute liver toxicity. Data acquired from the U.S. Acute Liver Failure Study Group registry indicates that nearly 50% of all acute liver failure in this country is linked to acetaminophen poisoning. There have even been reported cases of acute liver toxicity in individuals whose acetaminophen dosage did not exceed 4 grams/day. Surprisingly, a dosage of 4 grams/day falls within the recommended dosage for Extra Strength Tylenol.
People who suffer with joint problems are known to be chronic users of NSAIDS. In fact Tylenol (acetaminophen), the leading cause of calls to the Poison Control Centers across the United States resulting in an estimated 56,000 injuries, 2500 hospitalization and an estimate 450 deaths per year. Turmeric, on the other hand, has shown some amazing results in animal studies in helping the liver eliminate dangerous toxins. When fed curcuminoids (the active compound in turmeric) animals have shown a higher than average blood levels of the enzyme glutathione S-transferase, which is the key antioxidant the liver makes to detoxify our bodies. In fact glutathione, which is naturally produced by our bodies, is the most powerful of all antioxidants. Unfortunately it is not nearly so effective when taken orally. Turmeric enhances general detoxification and liver metabolism by stimulating the flow of bile which also helps to help digest fats. It is therefore effective for the prevention and dissolution of gallstones..
I have personally found turmeric to be effective for treating gall bladder inflammation as well as acute and chronic hepatitis and cirrhosis.
Other health conditions for which Turmeric is beneficial
It is doubtful that any organ or cell in the body would not find benefit from turmeric. The specific areas we've mentioned thus far include the joints and the liver, however, considering that turmeric helps in the digestion of fat, it is described as lipotropic, meaning that it prevents excess fat buildup, thins and emulsifies fat for easy movement through the bloodstream. As a result turmeric helps to keep the veins clear by promoting healthy levels of cholesterol and regulate blood pressure.
Cortisol is a hormone created in response to stress. Again it is implicated in a wide range of chronic degenerative conditions including diabetes. Turmeric sensitizes cortisol receptor sites which encourage this hormone to move out of the blood thus slowing signs of aging in all body tissues including facial skin. Turmeric is an effective gynecological herb that is effective for regulating and relieving pains associated with menstruation.
Turmeric and the Nerves
Turmeric has been shown to aid in the treatment of Multiple sclerosis (MS) by reducing the IL-2 protein that can destroy the myelin sheath.
The Healing properties of Cumin
Cumin (Cuminum cyminum) is widely used as both a healing herb and a culinary spice throughout most parts of Asia, Mexico and South America.
It can be either be ground, roasted, added to foods whole or boiled in water to treat many common ailments. It is used alone or in combination with other herbs and or with rock salt or sugar to treat many illnesses. It is commonly used as an aid to digestion and the seeds will freshen the breath which is why it is commonly added to foods. Cumin seed, like the seeds of other plants in the umbelliferae such as celery seed, have a special affinity for the urinary tract treating diseases of the bladder and kidneys. When combined with turmeric and peppercorn it becomes an effective digestive aid and immune stimulant.
Coriander seed is an aromatic stimulant, a carminative (remedial in flatulence), an appetizer and a digestant with a beneficial stimulating the stomach and intestines. It is generally beneficial to the nervous system. It is commonly prescribed to relieve the '˜griping' effects of purgatives
 Sugar Blues by William Duffy
[i] William Sheldon. The Varieties of Human Physique: An Introduction to Constitutional Psychology. New York: Harper, 1940.
'”'”'” The Varieties of Temperament: A Psychology of Constitutional Differences. New York: Harper, 1942.
'”'”'” Varieties of Delinquent Youth: An Introduction to Constitutional Psychiatry. New York: Harper, 1949.
'”'”'” Atlas of Men: A Guide for Somatotyping the Adult Male at All Ages. New York: Harper, 1954.