Simple Kitchari (mung beans and rice)

I have recently become fascinated with some of the ideas upon which Ayurvedic cooking is based.  For those who are not familiar, Ayurveda (Sanskrit for The Science of Life) is a traditional form of medicine that evolved in India.  It’s practiced in many other parts of the world as well, including in the US, where it’s considered alternative medicine. 

I am not even close to being qualified to delve into the complexities of Ayurveda, but one of the ideas that I think is incredibly valuable and accessible to everyone is that of the six tastes. These are sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent.  I don’t think there are many who would argue against the notion that the way we eat in our country has become imbalanced.  Thinking of the six tastes while preparing our food is a wonderful way to begin to bring balance, as well as great taste, to our tables. 

A good Ayurvedic cookbook or a browse online can provide much more detailed information, including the benefits of each of the six tastes and their effects on the three doshas.  As a very basic primer, I’ll give some examples of each of the 6 tastes that might help you bring balance to your meal.  It might be helpful to give a little extra attention to bitter, pungent, and astringent tastes, as sweet, salty, and sour tastes are quite dominant in the American diet.  Of course, the correct proportions of the six tastes depend on the individual at a given point and time, but including all of the six tastes is a great start for most of us.  

  • Sweet –  fruits, sweeteners, and milk
  • Sour – fermented foods (pickles, saurkraut, etc), yogurt, sour fruits like lemon
  • Salty – salt:) and sea veggies
  • Bitter – dark leafy greens, turmeric (astringent too), fenugreek, basil and other spices, jicama
  • Astringent – legumes, quinoa, pears, apples, pomengranate (both bitter and astringent), broccoli, cabbage
  • Pungent – onions, garlic, chili peppers

The natural inclination is to associate the six tastes with Indian cooking, because they are so closely interrelated, but I promise you that any meal or cooking style can benefit from being mindful of including each of these six tastes. 

The following recipe clearly has roots in the cuisine of South Asia, but it is very simple and mild and might be a great balancing dish for even the most American palate.  I grew up in the Midwest and ate plenty of casseroles, so I should know…It’s great for any meal and is often used as a fasting food that nourishes the body completely, while giving the digestive system a rest from processing the usual variety of foods. 

One more thing on the ingredients..according to Ayurvedic thought, ghee is a balancing food with many health benefits, but if you would prefer to use olive oil, you certainly can.  In addition, Ayurveda embraces white basmati rice, because it’s lighter than brown rice and more easily assimilated by the body.  If you prefer to use brown rice instead, please do.  Personally, though I am an olive oil and brown rice kind of girl, I prefer to go the more traditional route with this dish…I am giving you the most simple version, but you can certainly add more vegetables (I generally stir in chopped greens toward the end of the cooking process).  You can also add more spices, either along with the cumin, or sauteed in ghee and added to the kitchari.   

  • 1 cup white basmati rice, cooked* (sweet)
  • 2 Tablespoons ghee
  • 1 small to medium onion, chopped (pungent)
  • 2-3 stalks celery, chopped (bitter)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander, optional
  • 2-3 teaspoons chopped or grated ginger, or to taste (pungent)
  • 1 cup split mung beans (astringent)
  • 4 cups water, or more to taste
  • 1 strip kombu, optional (salty)
  • fresh lemon juice, to serve (sour)
  • Trocamare or sea salt and pepper, to taste

*You can also just add the uncooked rice and 2-3 cups water along with the mung beans.  I like to soak it for 30 minutes, then drain, rinse, and cook the soaked rice with 1/4 teaspoon salt and a bit of ghee. 

Heat a large pot to medium heat and add the ghee and onions.  When the onions have begun to brown, add the celery, cumin, coriander, and ginger and cook for a few more minutes.  While the veggies are cooking, put the mung beans in a colander and rinse well.  Add rinsed mung beans and water to the pot.  If you have kombu, add a strip for increased nutrition and digestibility.  Bring to a boil and continue to cook on the stove or transfer to a crockpot and cook until beans are very soft.  This will take 15 minutes in the pressure cooker or 45 minutes to an hour on the stove.  If using a crockpot, you could cook overnight or all day.  If cooking on the stove, stir regularly and add water as necessary to keep it from burning to the bottom.  When it’s done, it will be very soft and porridge-like.  Combine with cooked rice and add a squeeze of lemon juice, season to taste, and enjoy!


  1. Tracy Heiman said

    Sounds delicious! We will try it!

  2. Kris Miller said

    How does this compare to the mung bean dahl recipe below? Thanks, Kris

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