What is one of the most beloved comfort foods of India, prized in Ayurveda, loved by young and old alike, but may never be on the menu in an Indian restaurant? It’s nourishing, delicious, healing, invigorating, easy-to-digest, a complete protein, and good to the last spoonful. It’s called kicheree (also spelled kichadee, kichari, kichadi, and other ways) and has been one of my favorite foods for the last 40+ years. Kicheree in its most basic form is made with mungbeans, basmati rice, water, and ghee, but there are as many variations as there are cooks. For illness, the very young or the very old, it is probably best mild, with turmeric and salt also added. But you may prefer it spicy (my preference when fighting off a bug, also with lots of onions, ginger and garlic), mild, with vegetables or without, thick, brothy, or somewhere in between. Traditionally kicheree is made with split washed mung beans, also called moong daal (the skins are “washed” off, so these appear like small yellow split beans). Yogi Bhajan taught us to make kicheree, also called “Mungbeans and Rice”, with whole mungbeans. You can also use split mungbeans (the green skins still intact) for quicker cooking, or even red lentils (masoor daal). All with delicious results! Yogi Bhajan first instructed us to make mungbeans and rice with 1 part mungbeans and 1 part rice with at least 12 parts water, turmeric, onions, garlic, ginger, ghee, and lots of green vegetables. For illness, use more rice (2:1) than mung beans. Years later I asked him if he meant just any green vegetable, and he said any kind of greens… like chard, mustard, collards, etc. It is fine to add any veggies you want; the point of greens is that they are rich in nutrients, are cleansing, and help the body build more protein. I always like to add a few carrots or a red bell pepper, just because the color is so beautiful.
How to Make Kicheree
First off, start your pot of water boiling. To yield about a gallon (4-6 generous servings), start with about 3 quarts of unsalted water in a 6-quart pot. While that is heating up, rinse clean 1 cup of whole mung beans and add them to the pot. Then rinse clean a cup of white basmati rice 3-4 times and set it to drain (I like to put mine in a strainer) and save to add later. While the mung beans are cooking, start chopping your other ingredients, adding them to the pot as you go along. I always do the onions first, then the ginger, and then the garlic. I once didn’t know how to efficiently chop anything and just sort of figured things out on my own. I am sure there are plenty of folks out there who also never really learned chopping skills, so I am going to share a little about chopping an onion. First, take your whole onion and slice off the stem and root ends by about ¼ inch or so. Then cut it in half vertically.Once you cut it in half, it is super easy to take the peels off. This is very handy to know if you are chopping lots of onions because it really speeds things up. Once peeled, place each half cut side down on your chopping board. If you want to dice the onions, for instance in ½ inch dice, cut the onion along the grain in ½” slices. Then cut the other way in ½’” slices and you will have your diced onion. For this batch, I peeled and sliced my ginger into short matchsticks and then chopped with my knife. For the garlic, maybe you too saw that video on Facebook of shaking the bulb of garlic in a jar to remove the peels. I gave it a try and counted the seconds. At about 40 seconds the lid of the jar flew off and the now-mostly-peeled garlic cloves flew all over the kitchen. If I’d shaken the jar another 10 seconds or so it probably all would have gotten peeled. Then you sort through and pull out the papery skins. I think as long as you screw the jar lid on tighter than I did, this is a great method to use, especially if you want to store whole peeled cloves of garlic in the fridge for later, or you are going to make a batch of ginger-garlic paste. But for chopping a half bulb like I was, it’s really easier to smash the cloves with a big knife, the skins then come right off, and with a few quick chops the smashed garlic is finely chopped. I got one of those mandoline hand choppers… a curved blade with a handle in the middle. You hold the handle and move the blade back and forth like a rocking horse. It works fine, but I find I have a lot more control with a regular chefs knife. I am realizing now that if I keep writing in so much detail, this article may as well be a book. So I will use a little more brevity! With the garlic, onions and ginger added to the pot, now I add my spices (btw, I also make kicheree by frying the onions, garlic and ginger in ghee or oil with the spices, but this all-in-one-pot way is simpler). Tonight I added curry powder (ran out of turmeric), cumin seeds, cardamom seeds, a little crushed red chiles, and freshly ground coriander seeds. You can forego all the various spices and just use curry powder. This will taste fine. But, if you always use curry powder and don’t use individual spices in various combos, your food would all taste the same and cooking would be a bore! Experiment with different combos and proportions to your liking. It’s really quite lovely to use whole spices or coarsely ground spices so you get little bursts of flavor here and there. I prefer to coarsely grind coriander for this reason. Store your spices in amber glass jars and keep in a cabinet, not out on the counter or spice rack where they are in the light. (BTW I ordered my nifty amber spice jars from Frontier Herbs – they come 12 in a box.) This helps maintain their color, flavor, and volatile oils (ie, keeps them fresher longer). Next I chop all my veggies, but don’t add them to the pot quite yet. You will want about 2 quarts of chopped veggies (I used a half cauliflower, bell pepper, some “baby” carrots, and celery) plus about 8 ounces of chopped greens (collards, kale, mustard, etc). Because my husband likes something to bite into, I chop my veggies in big bite size pieces. You can chop them as large or small as you like. I know someone who grates all her veggies. When these are all prepped, about that time your mungbeans should be cooked and starting to split. When the mungbeans are cooked to this point, that’s when you should add all the chopped veggies and then the rice. It’s so gorgeous at this point! Don’t you just want to eat it up? But it needs to cook for about another 30 minutes or so, until the rice is very well done and the vegetables are soft. I got out my pepper mill and added a few twists of freshly ground pepper. Everything must be thoroughly well cooked. This is not a Chinese stir fry after all! This is a healing, easily digestible yogic food that must be well cooked. This batch was pretty thick, and I ended up adding a little more water. Once the rice is nice and soft, you can remove from heat and let it sit. It will be pretty thick. It will cook more in its own heat as it sits and thicken some more. Add up to a half cup of ghee, some chopped cilantro, and a drizzle of Braggs or salt to taste. Divine. I prefer my kicheree on the soupy side, so always add water to my serving, a little more cilantro, a dash of Braggs, and a little spoon of my favorite achar (spicy Indian pickle…. Try mango, lemon, or a mixed pickle). Simply superb!
Another little trick, especially if you are a bit under the weather, is to add your chopped garlic at the end of cooking, or add extra minced garlic and cilantro as garnish when served. The raw or almost raw garlic packs a more potent punch.
Sabjee Kicheree (Mung Beans & Rice with Veggies)
3 quarts water
1 cup whole mung beans
1 cup white basmati rice
1 big onion, sliced or diced
2-inch piece ginger, finely chopped
½ bulb garlic, finely chopped
1 rounded Tbsp. curry powder
1 tsp. cumin seeds
½ tsp. cardamom seeds
½ tsp (more or less to taste) crushed red chiles
1 Tbsp. freshly ground coriander
1/4 tsp or more of fresh ground black pepper
½ medium cauliflower, chopped
1-2 carrots, chopped
3-4 stalks celery, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped (with seeds )
8 ounces (by weight) greens or mixed greens
¼ cup or more of ghee or grass-fed butter
Salt and/or Braggs to taste
½ bunch cilantro finely chopped
Bring unsalted water to a boil. Add rinsed mungbeans to water. Wash, rinse and drain basmati rice and set aside. Chop onion, ginger and garlic and add to pot as they are chopped. Add spices. Now chop all the vegetables. By the time you are finished chopping, the mung beans should be soft and starting to split. Add the vegetables and basmati rice to the pot. Cook over medium heat at slow boil/simmer until well done, stirring more frequently as it thickens. When rice is very soft, remove from heat and let stand until served (it will continue to cook and thicken in its own heat). Add ghee, salt or Braggs, and cilantro. I served mine with a dollop of Golden Yogurt. So good!!