You don’t need to starve in the winter to cleanse. Try this spoonful of ancient wisdom and ultimate comfort!

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When the first snow falls in early winter I feel the ecstatic childhood glee of impending snow days and oversized sweaters. Holiday magic seems to sparkle everywhere we look.

When the millionth snow falls in February, my grownup body begins to creak with the cold and my mind feels muddied from too many pints, pot roasts and pies.

It feels like time for a cleanse, but the temperatures don’t make light of juicing – our body needs warmth and comfort. The urge to hibernate also makes a more traditional or “master cleanse” difficult, since a walk in the outside tundra is less inviting when we’re journeying inward and eating light.

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In my quest to push through this mid-winter rut, two friends (Emma Silverman and Allison Usavage) introduced me to an age-old cleanse based on a very simple Indian dish called “Kitchari” (kich-ah-ree). It’s an Ayurvedic detox food, with the equivalent emotional experience of a piping hot bowl of pasta: ultimate comfort food. Sounds unlikely, right? It gets even better. Unlike spaghetti with meatballs, this porridge-like dish has far more nourishing qualities and has long been a staple for nursing the sick back to health, and strengthening the already resilient! I love the notion of using food as medicine – after all, we are what we eat.

The essential ingredients in Kitchari are rice and split mung beans, though variations include split yellow lentils or red lentils (also known as “dal”). Much like the Nicaraguan “gallo-pinto” (rice and beans), the combination of rice and legumes forms a complete protein. Different sources recommend using different varieties of rice, but I always use brown basmati for its nutty flavor and unprocessed character.

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I’m dedicated to seasonal cleansing (yes, even in the winter). Usually it looks something like this: eliminate sugar, dairy, wheat, meat, caffeine, and alcohol steadily over three days; eliminate nuts, seeds, and nightshade plants (tomatoes, potatoes and eggplants) over two days; eat whole grains and steamed vegetables for one to two days; drink fresh juices and broths for two to three days (with one day devoted to lemon-maple-cayenne tea); and steadily climb back out.  It’s at once challenging and invigorating, and always better done with friends. But four days into my first kitchari cleanse, and I’m feeling ignited by a whole new approach to resetting my system: body, mind and heart.

I’ll leave the scientific benefits for a Kitchari cleanse to Ayurvedic expert, Dr. John Douillard, and focus on my personal observations. Foremost, I don’t feel the nagging hunger that a traditional cleanse entails in the early stages. Which leads me to the second plus: a kitchari cleanse doesn’t require being so austere. You can of course stick to just the rice and legumes, but the recipe and variations I’ve included are equally cleansing and nourishing. You can play with spice variations, and even a touch of ghee, a sprinkling of toasted coconut, and a lavish infusion of fresh cilantro leaves. Tucking into a bowl of steaming, spiced rice and lentils is utterly satisfying. It’s soul food. My mind feels clear, beginning with the morning meditation of making a fresh pot for the day. By focusing on three meals a day, there is space in between for clarity around work, play, pastimes and exercise. Krissy Ruddy also has a beautiful blog post that delves further into the merits of a Kitchari cleanse.

One more thought for food: if you want to do a more relaxed kitchari cleanse, you can add the following ingredients in your dish moderately – I like to mix n’ match:

  • A sprinkle of unfiltered apple cider vinegar (thank you Emma Silverman!)
  • A generous sprinkle of nutritional yeast (thanks again E.S.)
  • Replace 1/3 of the water in the recipe with lite coconut milk
  • A few heaping spoonfuls of sauerkraut to boost your probiotic intake and digestion, but try to keep salt intake low to none other than this
  • Steamed, winter vegetables: broccoli, kale, chard, cabbage (red, green and napa), and dandelion leaves (good for detoxing). Avoid sugary vegetables like carrots and beets.
  • Toasted, shredded coconut

Dig in, and enjoy!

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Kitchari

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 35 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

It's great to make a fresh pot daily, so you can really harness the energy in the food. For a more relaxed cleanse, play with the additions mentioned above. And don't forget to rinse your grains and legumes thoroughly to wash away impurities. I like to blast the faucet through the grains in a fine-mesh sieve.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 teaspoon ghee
  • 1.5 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 1.5 teaspoons fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seed
  • 1.5 teaspoons turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 1 cup split mung dal
  • 1 cup basmati rice, rinsed
  • 1/4 cup split yellow dal, rinsed
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 stick cinnamon stick
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger root, minced
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, per serving

Instructions

  1. Toast the fennel, coriander and cumin seeds over medium-low heat. When they begin to pop, transfer them to a mortar and pestle or clean coffee grinder, and grind into powder.
  2. In a large pot, melt the ghee. Add the ground spices, turmeric powder and cumin powder. Stir into a paste.
  3. Add the split mung dal, yellow dal and rice to the pot. Stir and toast for 1-2 minutes.
  4. Add the cardamom pods, bay leaves, cinnamon stick and minced ginger.
  5. Add the water and stir the kitchari. Cover the pot with a lid and bring the liquid to a boil.
  6. Reduce to a simmer for about 30 minutes, until the water is absorbed and the kitchari is tender and porridge-like.
  7. Serve warm with a generous helping of cilantro leaves.
  8. When reheating for each meal, I like to add a splash of water to loosen up the kitchari.
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