I’m currently transitioning out of my first Ayurvedic cleanse, and in writing this, I feel the need to preface my experience with some honest thoughts about the multi-million (billion?) dollar industry devoted to diets, detoxing and overall anxiety about doing the “right thing”.
Each new year, the media somehow assumes the role of a life coach, a self-selected emissary from the Land Of Healthy Eating whose sole mission is to coax the sedentary, unhealthy and (one assumes) culinary-illiterate public into “eating healthy” and “losing weight”. The tone changes as we move into warmer weather, especially for women, where we’re constantly reminded that ‘time is running out’ to get our bodies “Bikini-ready”. Somewhere between January and May, the subtle (or not-so-subtle) link is made between health and appearance. The Bikini Body becomes the litmus test of how well you’ve met your ‘clean eating goals’ which, you know, you were supposed to have been working on since January. Through repetition and sensational headlines, we’re fed the myth that a woman’s worth of the ‘Healthy’ label is entirely dependent on how well she fits into a flimsy two-piece, and how good she looks in it – as defined by an invisible, arbitrary audience.
Give me a break.
One’s well-being and what constitutes ‘being healthy’ is an entirely subjective experience dependent on your age, gender, lifestyle, history of physical activity, your genes, where you live and many other factors. It is not a template that can be cut and pasted across individuals as easily as birthday wishes on Facebook. What may work for me might not work for you and that is the fun of the process – we each get to experiment, play, research and figure out the diet and lifestyle that works best for where we are right now. It is empowering and re-frames the conversation about health and well-being from a point of view that’s more constructive than prescriptive.
I’m no expert by any means, but Ayurveda, in a nutshell, is an Indian science that provides a framework for understanding balance and imbalance in the body and how to address the causes of disease early on through diet and many other lifestyle practices such as oil massage and nasal cleansing. Depending on what discomforts show up for you, and your body’s constitution – whether you’re tall and thin or stocky and muscular – the suggested diet and courses of action will be different.
You can see why Ayurveda resonates.
Through my yoga practice, I developed an interest in this approach years ago, and have sat on the sidelines observing and reading about the parameters of a seasonal Ayurvedic cleanse. But it was only through meeting more experienced Ayurvedic practitioners recently that gave me the courage to try doing it on my own, armed with this guide and this indispensable cookbook. I found that the cleanse was designed to reset my daily rhythms to be more aligned with the movements of the sun and our circadian rhythms. At the same time the digestive system gets a break by following a mono-diet of Kitchari for a period of time. This is a one-pot, stew-like dish of white basmati rice, hulled mung beans, spices and vegetables that’s considered the ‘perfect food’ in Ayurveda because of its balancing properties. The practice of daily oil baths supplemented the mono-diet and I quickly discovered how beneficial this was for me, both physically and mentally. Apart from promoting restful sleep and bringing about strong sense of calm I found the massages extremely helpful in mitigating the headaches from caffeine withdrawal. Giving up the daily espresso is never a pretty sight, and eating the same thing all-day, everyday, can get a little tiring, but it was worth it. By the fourth day my energy levels were steady and strong, my skin never looked better (oil massage!) and I am falling asleep and waking with much more ease than before. Something tells me this seasonal cleanse is here to stay!
Adapted from The Everyday Ayurveda Cookbook // Serves 2
Cleanse or not, this is a versatile one-pot meal that comes together quickly. I’ve tried a number of different kitchari recipes through the years and this recipe from Kate O’Donnell delivers on all counts: flavor, texture and consistency. I’ve scaled down her original recipe to a smaller serving size and used a pre-made spice mix for convenience. This dish does not work well as leftovers so prepare just enough for your needs.
- 1/2 cup white basmati rice
- 1/4 cup yellow split mung beans, soaked for at least 30 minutes
- 1.5 teaspoons Kitchari spice mix
- pinch of asafoetida powder (optional)
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup mixed vegetables, coarsely chopped into small cubes (for starches/root vegetables) or strips (for leafy greens)
- 1 heaping teaspoon ghee
- 1/8 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1/8 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1/8 teaspoon coriander seeds
- Cilantro for garnish
- Rinse the rice and split mung beans two to three times until the water runs clear. Drain and set aside in a bowl. Sprinkle the spice mix and asafoetida (if using).
- In a medium saucepan over high heat, add water and salt. When the water boils, add the prepared rice/mung bean/spice mixture as well as any cubed vegetables. Give the pot a few stirs to evenly distribute the ingredients then partially cover the pot, leaving some space for steam to escape. Let the mixture come to a boil again then immediately turn the heat down to its lowest setting and let simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
- After 20 minutes, check the amount of liquid left. There should be a thin (1/4-inch) rim of water around the edge of the saucepan. If not, add more water, 1/4 cup at a time. Add any leafy greens you may be using now and cover the pot again, in the same manner as step 2. Leave to simmer for another 5 to 8 minutes.
- After adding the greens heat the ghee in a separate pan and add the fennel, cumin and coriander seeds. Cook until the seeds start to pop, about 2 minutes, and remove from heat.
- Add the tempered spices to the saucepan (be careful, it will sputter), cover fully and turn off the heat. Let it stand for a few minutes.
- Give the pot a good stir to mix in the spices and greens. Taste and add more salt if needed. It is ok if the kitchari looks a little soupy, the dish absorbs water as it sits. Serve hot, topped with fresh cilantro.