Kitchari: A Wholesome Cleanse

I have been extremely tired over the past few weeks, and knew that I needed a quick pick-me- up – a sort of detoxing cleanse to get me back on my feet. However, fasting or following a juice diet didn’t appeal to me during the winter season — a time when food provides needed warmth. It was then that I remembered kitchari (khichdi), a comfort food used when convalescing or as part of an ayurvedic diet in order to rejuvenate a fatigued system.

Kitchari is a preparation of rice, lentils, and vegetables, with a soupy, risotto-like consistency. Each of the components in kitchari contributes to wellness, and comprise easily digestible and water-soluble ingredients. The cooking fat is ghee (similar to clarified butter made without the milk solids), which acts as a fuel for digestion and elimination, the start of the detoxification process. The pale yellow lentils are hulled green mung beans, which cooks easily; and represent a simpler and lighter way of consuming protein and fiber. Spices such as mustard seeds, cumin, coriander and fennel add flavor to an otherwise mild and creamy dish.


Ghee – 2 tbsp

Basmati rice – ½ cup, rinsed several times

Mung Lentils (yellow mung dal) – ½ cup, rinsed several times and left overnight in water to soak

Vegetables – 2 cups, finely chopped (combination of carrots, pepper, beans, squash, asparagus)

Red onion – 1, medium finely chopped

Ginger – 1 tsp, finely sliced

Garlic clove – 2, finely chopped

Chili – 1, slit into half and deseeded if desired

Black mustard seeds – ½ tsp

Cumin seeds – ½ tsp

Turmeric powder – ¼ tsp

Coriander powder – 1½ tsp

Asafetida spice (optional) – ¼ tsp

Fennel seeds – ½ tsp

Vegetable stock – 4 ½ cups

Salt – to taste

  • Drain and rinse the mung lentils that had been left overnight.
  • Heat the ghee in a pot.
  • When the ghee melts, add onions and cook until translucent.
  • Add the garlic, chili, and ginger and cook until garlic is pale brown.
  • Add the black mustard seeds, and watch for the seeds to pop.
  • Add the cumin seeds and wait until you hear them sizzle (a few seconds), and immediately add the remaining spices (turmeric powder, coriander powder, asafetida, and fennel), stir-fry until fragrant (30 seconds or so).
  • Add the drained rice and lentils and stir until lightly fried, about 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, and then simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Add the diced vegetables and continue to cook for about 10-12 minutes.
  • The dish is ready when the rice and lentils are soft to touch and the vegetables cooked.
  • For the desired soupy consistency, add more water or boil off any excess liquid in the pan.
  • Eat immediately.

Note: Try herbal tea with shavings of ginger to complement the meal.






Injera: Communal Meal (Part 3)

Blogging about communal meals (cheese fondue and shabu shabu) made me aware of the importance of the main cooking pot: The flavors developed here enhance the taste of the accompaniments. In Ethiopian cuisine, the central “pot” is injera bread, which is both the dish that holds the accompaniments as well as part of the meal itself. Breaking bread becomes a communal experience as pieces of injera are torn to scoop up the side dishes that are piled in small mounds on the bread platter.

Injera is made from an ancient gluten-free grain called teff. Teff flour batter is fermented overnight and gives injera its characteristic sour taste. The cooked pancake-shaped spongy bread balances, both literally and figuratively, an assortment of cooked vegetables, lentils, and meat. Side dishes range from lightly spiced to the richly spiced flavors aided by the spice blend, berbere (pronounced burr-burr-ee). Berbere gives the meat stew (wot) and red lentil sauce its rich red color and complexity. Depending on family or regional traditions, there are at least 8-10 different spices in the berbere blend.

Proper etiquette requires that you eat with your fingers, working your way from the edges of the injera toward the middle. This has a practical aspect since the soft spongy center soaks up the sauce from the stew by the end of the meal.

Doro Wot – Chicken Stew

Oil or niter kibeh (spiced clarified butter or ghee) – 4-5 tbsp

Onion – 2 large, chopped finely

Garlic cloves – 6, peeled and minced

Ginger – 2-inch peeled and minced

Chicken –1 lb, washed

Berbere powder – 2 tbsp

Tomatoes – 2, chopped

Salt – 1 tsp

Boiled eggs – 2 (optional)

  • Heat the oil in a pan.
  • Add the onions and cook on low for about 10 minutes, until cooked down
  • Add the garlic and ginger and sauté for 2-3 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat. Process the cooked onions, garlic and ginger in a food processor, until it becomes a fine paste.
  • Add the paste back to the pan and continue with the cooking.
  • Add the berbere powder and sauté for one minute.
  • Add the tomatoes and incorporate into the mixture.
  • Add the chicken. Cover and cook on low for 15-20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked.
  • Add the boiled egg during the last five minutes of cooking, so that it will absorb the flavors.

Misir Wot – Red Lentil Stew

Oil or niter kibeh (spiced clarified butter or ghee) – 3-4 tbsp

Red lentils – 1 ½ cups, cleaned until water runs clear

Onion – 1 medium, chopped finely

Garlic cloves – 8, peeled and minced

Berbere powder – 1-1/2 tbsp

Tomatoes – 2, chopped

Salt – 1 tsp

  • Heat a pan with oil.
  • Add the onions and cook on low for about 10 minutes.
  • Add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the berbere spice powder and sauté for 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes and cook them until incorporated with the contents in the pan.
  • Remove from heat and process them to a fine paste.
  • Add the paste back into the pan and bring the contents to a simmer.
  • Add the lentils to the paste. Mix well, and add  3 cups of water.
  • Cook on low heat, until lentils are soft, about 15-20 minutes. Add more liquid as needed, but the consistency of the lentil stew should be thick such that it can be scooped up with injera.

If you do not want to make all the accompaniments, make one meat or lentil dish with berbere spice and keep the rest of the accompaniments easy – such as a simple steamed greens or salad.

Suggested Accompaniments:

Red Lentil Stew

Ethiopian Green Salad

Marinated Beet and Potato Salad

Collard Greens

Steamed Kale


Note: This time I used store-bought injera for convenience. I am planning to include a recipe as part of a series on fermented breads.


I was introduced to the three communal meals, the inspirations for the last few blog posts, by my friends (cheese fondue and shabu shabu) and relatives who had lived and worked in Ethiopia (injera). I would love to hear from you about your personal favorite communal meals.

Harvest Moon: A Season Comes to Pass

The first full moon before the autumnal equinox on Sept 22nd is called the harvest moon, and this year it was also a perigean full moon or supermoon. When I told A. and N. of the harvest moon, they jokingly asked if it was anything like their old computer game. Unlike in the game with its four thirty-day seasons and the farmer’s day that ends at 6 pm, a real-life farmer appreciates the additional moonlight to harvest the crops. Harvest festivals, around the world, acknowledge the end of a rhythmic food cycle with gratitude and celebrations. This year, I decided to start a new celebratory food tradition and honor an old one.

In America, November’s Thanksgiving holiday marks the first harvest. Turkey with accompaniments of squash, potatoes, and vegetables is one of my favorite meals. However, I wanted to commemorate the end of a summer cycle of feasting as a locavore on one of my favorite foods, summer berries. A summer fruit pie would have been ideal. Unfortunately after an earlier botched attempt with pastry, I knew that a fail-proof crumble (also called crisp) recipe would be more forgiving. How hard could it be to mix together butter, brown sugar, and flour and sprinkle the crumble randomly over the fruits? It turned out to be one of the quickest and tastiest desserts that I have ever made – an easy new tradition to continue.

The end of summer also reminded me of a beloved tradition. When I was growing up, the harvest festival comprised a bountiful nine-course vegetarian meal (onasadhya). The vegetarian food, served on plantain leaf plates, covers a gamut of flavors and textures – impressing even a confirmed carnivore! Crisp banana chips and pappadum (lentil wafers) provide the crunch, and a spoonful of spicy pickles contributes a bitter and spicy hot element. A bevy of fresh beans, plantain, cabbage, carrots, summer squash, and lentils, lightly dressed with spices, are served alongside rice. Creamy rice and lentil puddings round out the meal. I have included one of the dishes,  Green Beans with Coconut, since fresh green beans are plentiful today. The dish translates well as a side salad, and can be easily incorporated into any other thanksgiving meals.

Berry Crumble

Mixed berries (blackcurrant, raspberry, blueberry, and strawberry) – 2 1/2  cups

Cinnamon stick – 1 (optional)

Flour – 6 tbsp

Dark brown sugar – 4 tbsp

Butter (room temperature) –1 stick

  • Heat the oven to 400°F.
  • Arrange the berries in a single layer in an ovenproof dish. (I did not add additional sugar, but you may want to if the berries are tart.)
  • Place the whole cinnamon stick among the berries.
  • In a bowl, cut the softened butter in to the flour and sugar mixture. Combine lightly using your fingers until it has a breadcrumb-like texture.
  • Spread the mixture over the berries.
  • Bake at 400°F, for 30-40 minutes, or until the crumble top is golden.
  • Eat immediately. Depending on the tartness of the fruits, you might want to serve the crumble with ice cream.



Green Beans with Coconut

Green Beans – 12 oz

Grated Coconut – 4 tbsp

Turmeric powder – ¼ tsp

Shallots – 5, chopped finely

Green chilies – 4, chopped

Garlic cloves – 4, peeled and chopped

Vegetable oil – 3 tbsp

Mustard seeds – ¾ tsp

Cumin seeds – ¼ tsp

Curry leaves – 4 (optional)

Salt –1 tsp

  • Boil the beans in a pan with 1-2 tbsp of water, turmeric and 1tbsp. of grated coconut. Keep aside. This can be done in advance and frozen.
  • Heat the oil in a wok over high heat.
  • Add the mustard seeds to the hot oil.
  • When the seeds start to pop, add the cumin seeds, shallots and curry leaves.
  • Sauté until they shallots become translucent.
  • Add the green chilies, garlic and the remaining coconut. Sauté until the coconut turns golden brown.
  • Add the beans and sauté for a minute.
  • Cover the wok, reduce heat to low, and cook for another five minutes.
  • Season with salt