Wednesday, May 12, 2010

spring kicharee

Kicharee is a special Indian dish that is highly lauded for its therapeutic benefit. It is a very simple preparation of cooked mung beans and rice sauteed with ghee or oil and spices. According to herbalist Michael Tierra, "Kicharee is well balanced and high in easily assimilated protein. It also has blood purifying properties." He says that it "can be eaten everyday as a healing food, for fasting, establishing pH balance, for a mono-food cleansing diet, or for those recovering from a serious illness or surgery."

I have been regularly following the blogs of Michael and Lesley Tierra as part of my herbalist training, and recently, in a post called Diet and Herb Tips for Spring Health, they offered a unique Spring Kicharee recipe that expands the basic recipe to include several vegetables: "Burdock to cleanse the Liver and Blood, carrots to support digestion and fluid metabolism, shiitake mushrooms to strengthen Blood and immunity and support Liver function and kelp and dark leafy greens to detoxify the Liver and provide important minerals."

Here is their recipe:
  • 3 cups water or chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup rice
  • 1/2 cup mung beans
  • 1 small strip kelp, washed
  • 1/3 tsp. turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp. coriander powder
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds or powder
  • 2 Tblsp. ghee (clarified butter) or sesame oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 burdock root, scrubbed and thinly sliced
  • 1 carrot, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup chopped dark leafy greens (dale, collards, dandelion, mustard)
  • Seasonings: salt, lemon juice
"Cook rice, beans and kelp in water or stock for 45 minutes. Brown spices in oil. Stir fry onion, mushrooms, burdock and carrot in spiced oil. Boil greens in an inch of water for five minutes and strain. Combine all ingredients together. More water or stock may be added to make soupier, if wanted. Add any desired seasonings."

Stefanie and I worked on this recipe last week. I started the night before by pre-soaking the mung beans and rice separately since I have read often that this step unlocks the dormant energy in these foods by beginning the germination process, and also makes them more digestible. Then when we got started we cooked these in some homemade vegetable broth with the strip of kelp (kombu). I have been adding kelp to my beans for a while now, since I read Paul Pitchford's comment, in Healing with Whole Foods, that kelp is "excellent added to beans, as the minerals help to balance the protein and oils in them and increase digestibility."

I was curious and intrigued about cooking with the fresh burdock root. Over the years, I had tried the dried burdock in different tea blends, and wondered if the fresh vegetable would have the same strong bitter flavor I remembered. I also didn't know where to find it. I figured Whole Foods was my best bet, but I looked over the whole produce area a couple times and couldn't see it. I asked an employee, and she said that yes, they had it but she would have to get it from the back, and a few minutes later she returned with two long pieces, each over two feet long. I asked her why it wasn't out on the shelves and she said that they didn't think it fit in right with everything else.

I think she was referring to the truth that burdock is a very humble looking vegetable, but when we prepared the kicharee we found that it is impressive in its own earthy way. It has an appealing pungent aroma and taste similar to artichoke. And in the dish its crispy texture contrasted well with the chewy yet equally earthy shiitake mushrooms. In the background the ghee and spices elevated all the ingredients to something satisfying and soulful.

We were happy with our results. In fact, during the research for this post I found another variation by Michael Tierra from a long time ago, and I would love to try that one soon.

Stefanie's note: It might be worth noting that we sprinkled the dish with bit of sea salt, which really brought out the flavor. This is a delicious meal. It is easy to understand why kicharee makes a good single-food diet when detoxifying or healing. My body clearly felt so happy and comfortable digesting this food and it felt very nourishing to eat it. Additionally, on a more intangible level, I believe the mushrooms, burdock root and carrots, which of course grow in the earth, are all very grounding and stabilizing for one's spiritual and emotional well-being.

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