Food, like a loving touch or a glimpse of divine power, has that ability to comfort.”~Norman Kolpas
Some comfort foods are obviously healthier than others, but all are connected to a sense of place and where you’ve been in life, whether it’s your experience of some exotic location on the other side of the world or your mom’s kitchen. And then there are foods that tap into the realm of Spirit: foods that because of their warmth, taste, or smell, evoke a feeling or memory accompanied by a soft vocal “mmmm”, closed eyes and just a hint of a smile from almost anyone who partakes. The mmmm sound transcends the mind like the pranava mantra (Om); an expression of satisfaction that follows the O of surprise – Oh!… mmmm!
Lately, the food that comes to mind when I think of comfort is Kitchari, an Indian dish that is so satisfying, I could eat it every day. Kitchari means a mixture. It can be made with different combinations of grains and beans but the mixture that I like is made with split mung dal or red lentils and basmati rice. Kitchari is considered a very clean food and is said to be suitable for all doshas. In India, many children are raised eating Kitchari from a very early age. There seem to be endless variations: simple preparations with fewer spices are ideal for supporting or breaking a fast; more spices in different combinations make for a more interesting eating experience. The following recipe is a variation of one that I learned from a friend, an ayurvedic practitioner who visits Salt Lake City every six months or so.
1/2 cup Basmati Rice (brown or white)
1 cup Mung Dal (split) or red/yellow lentils
6 cups (approx.) Pure Water
1/2 to 1 inch Ginger Root, chopped or grated
1/4 tsp. or so Mineral Salt (meaning non-iodized like Himalayan red or Redmond Real Salt)
2 tsp. Ghee (clarified butter)
2 Whole Cardamom Pods (black pods are stronger and more aromatic than white)
1/2 tsp. Fennel Seeds
1/2 tsp. Coriander Seeds
1/2 tsp. Whole Cumin Seeds
1/2 tsp. Black Mustard Seeds
1/2 tsp. Coriander Powder
1/2 tsp. Cumin Powder
1/2 tsp. Turmeric Powder
1/4 tsp. Asafoetida (Hing)
Handful Fresh Cilantro Leaves or Parsley
Remove any stones found in the rice and dal. Wash each separately in at least 2 changes of water. Add the 6 cups of water and cook covered for about 20 minutes until it becomes soft.
In a separate pan, sauté the seeds in the ghee until they pop. Then add the other spices. Stir together to release the flavors. Separate the sautéed spices with a strainer or cheese cloth and add the infused ghee to the cooked dal and rice. Add the salt and chopped fresh cilantro and serve.
As an option, you can add 1 ½ cups of any vegetables that you like. Vegetables such as kale, asparagus, green beans, okra, yellow squash, carrots, string beans, snap peas, broccoli, beets, and spinach work well and add seasonal variety. While the dal and rice are cooking, cut the vegetables into bite-sized pieces. You can add the vegetables to the cooked rice and dal mixture or serve them on the side. I like to stir some lightly sautéed onion into the rice and dal regardless of whether I add other vegetables; I just enjoy the texture.
According to the Ayurvedic Institute, this kind of Kitchari is particularly nourishing and easy to digest. However, a diet consisting of only kitchari can lead to constipation. Therefore, you may need to supplement an extended Kitchari diet by drinking lots of water, psyllium husks and water, prune juice or oat bran
People with Vata or Kapha conditions may wish to add a pinch of ginger powder. For Pitta conditions, they recommend leaving out the mustard seeds.
Vary the spices and quantities to suite your own taste.