Sunday, September 29, 2013

Cooking kitchari

          It's been a cool, rainy day here in Toledo, Ohio.  Not quite warm enough to be summer.  Not chilly enough to really feel like autumn.  I've been spending the day at home...making gifts, doing laundry, cleaning the house.  It's nearly dinner time, so in the midst of folding towels and feeding the kitten, I decided to put a pot of kitchari on the stove.  It'll take a while for this yummy dish to cook down into the nourishing porridge I'll enjoy tonight and in the week ahead, so I have time to do a little yoga, prepare for my classes this week, and even write this blog.
          I'm not much of a fact, in my twenties, I often said, "If it's not microwaveable, it's debatable."  Once my microwave gave up the ghost over ten years ago, I never bothered to replace it.  Instead, I've ventured into new ways of preparing meals that are not only nourishing, but distinctly gluten-free and vegan as well.  Since beginning my yoga practice in the late nineties, I've discovered that I have a host of food sensitivities, so finding recipes that are in alignment with my strict diet are few and far between.
          Thank goodness for my friend, Smita and her mother, Mrudu (who I call "Ba"), who have taught me how to make delicious and simple Indian meals.  Kitchari has become a staple in my home during the winter months and I'm delighted that it's yummy aroma is wafting through my office right now.
          I've made kitchari dozens of times, but this evening as I was stirring the lentils and rice, I realized that kitchari is more than just a meal.  Though this dish is fairly simple, I often make it more complex by adding a host of spices and fresh vegetables.  As I added the myriad of spices, each one brought back a experience...a person.  
          In cleaning out her home in preparation for its sale last summer, Ba gifted me with a wonderful tin spice box.  This evening as I opened it, I thought about all the wonderful meals Ba had prepared for her family and friends.   I thought of the hundreds of times she used the small, metal spoon to scoop the turmeric and coriander seeds.  The way she rarely measures anything, but everything she makes turns out both delicious and unique.  Through her and Smita, I've learned the value in adding a spices that bring out the innate flavor in foods as well as adding healthy benefits to the meals I am preparing. 
          Hing is one of my new favorites and I rarely cook a meal without it.   Also called asafetida, hing smells exactly life the sulfur baths at Esalen.  When I tossed it into the kitchari pot this evening, I remembered the wonderful hours resting in the sunshine and healing waters of the hot springs.  The silent and sacred hours soaking in the tubs.
          A teaspoon of fennel seeds came next and with it, a memory of a man I once loved.  We had walked through a field of fennel and I had no idea how much it smelled like licorice until he plucked a blossom and handed it to me.  Now I can't taste anise flavored foods without remembering that moment and all the bittersweet things that followed.
          Next I tossed in some basil and oregano...fresh from my garden.  It's been an easy, quiet season this year and as summer slowly transforms into autumn, the spices and herbs are still vibrant and aromatic. 
          In an hour or so I'll add some fresh vegetables a friend gave me this week...a gift from a local farm co-op.  This fall has seen an abundant harvest here in Northwest Ohio, and each week, Beth brings me tasty surprises in all shapes and sizes.  Field greens and radishes and arugula...oh, my!  Needless to say, I've enjoyed them all!

          Kitchari is known as an Indian comfort food...and it certainly is for me.  Each time I prepare a pot, I enjoy a taste treat that is a unique combination of the past and the present.  An amalgamation of friends and sweet memories and the abundant gifts of nature.  With each bowl I appreciate the warm and spicy.  The cool and cleansing.  The simple and complex.
          As I head back to the kitchen to keep stirring the pot, may you enjoy this Sunday evening in ways filled with simple peace.  
          I know I will.  

Here's a link to one of my favorite kitchari renditions: