As December rolls in with cold temperatures and lots of holiday merry-making, I've found that my digestion has been a bit out of sorts. Of course, eating too much turkey and potatoes at Thanksgiving feasts can add to the problem. Along with the inevitable indulgunce in sweet treats and foods that contain allergens, notably gluten (oh the pies and pastries!) and dairy (and don't forget the bourbon whip cream on that pie!), it's easy for the tummy to get bogged down with what is called Ama in Ayurvedic healing. You can also call it dampness, and some may call it "toxic." The most common symptoms of Ama are nausea, loss of appetite or desire for food, sluggishness or lethargy, constipation or diarrhea, bloating, gas, and general blahs. This is all too common in our overfed society, especially in the season of feasting. Sadly many people turn to harsh cleanses and purgative therapies after the holidays, and engage in "resolutions" at the new year to loose the pounds they gained.
I'm a firm believer that these types of "cleanses" especially when they contain harsh laxatives like senna, aloe, cascara and such can be extremely depleting, and not really effective in achieving the sought after "cleansed" feeling. Many people who undergo such cleanses feel better for a while, but their digestive fire or Agni, as it is called in Ayurveda is seriously weakened, and that "toxic" feeling will return over and over again.
Obviously eating wisely and with awareness can prevent this all together, but even with the best of intentions, and the cooler weather which always seems to make us want to eat more, it can be difficult. If you've found yourself feeling a bit sick to your stomach, or feeling a lack of interest in food, or just the general blahs and low energy, perhaps a simple recipie to kindle the Agni (digestive fire) from the Ayurvedic tradition is in order.
Instead of fasting or purging which certainly isn't all that fun to undertake, simplifying the diet with a few easy to digest, yet nourishing foods may be the answer. I made the following recipie this week after feeling a bit under the weather after an indulgent thanksgiving weekend.
Congee from China and Kitcheri from India are similiar dishes, based on long cooked rice, grains, or beans, and aromatic spices. They are easy to digest because the food is cooked long, until fibers and starches are broken down, and the digestive system doensn't have to work as hard to break down the food. They are also warm, both in temperature and energetics. Both long cooking and the inclusion of warming digestive herbs and spices warm the food energetically. The spices also flavor the dish to a palatable yet gentle food ideal for those with digestive problems, who are recovering from illness, or just need to give an overloaded sluggish digestive system a break.
"Kitcheri provides nourishment for the body and also benefits digestion. This makes kitcheri a food of choice for times of stress on the body, such as during a change of seasons, periods of overwork and during illness."
2-3 TBS ghee (see oghee recipe below or buy it at most health food stores or East Indian groceries)
½ tsp black mustard seeds
½ tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds, ground
1 small pinch of asafoetida (“hing”)powder
½ cup split yellow mung dal, rinsed well, soaked overnight and drained.
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 cup white basmati rice, rinsed well and drained.
4½ cups water with a pressure cooker or six cups with a regular pot
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
4-5 thin slices of fresh ginger root
Using either a pressure cooker (much faster) or a heavy-bottomed pot, heat the ghee on medium heat. Ghee burns easily so be careful. Sauté the mustard seeds and cumin seeds in the ghee until the seeds pop. Then add the drained mung dal, asafoetida powder, turmeric and salt. Stir until the mix starts to stick to the bottom of the pan. Then add the rice, water, cumin powder, coriander powder and ginger. Stir well, making sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pressure cooker or pot.
If you are using a pressure cooker, fasten the lid on and turn the heat to high, let full pressure build up. Once the pressure has built up, turn the heat low and let cook five minutes. Then take the cooker off of the heat and let sit until there is no more pressure and you can safely open the lid.
If you’re using a regular pot, cover and bring it to a boil on high heat. Then turn the heat down and let it simmer until both the rice and dal are mushy.
You may have to experiment with how much water you use to find a consistency that you like. The more water - the thinner the consistency. A thinner consistency is preferable if digestion is weak. You will notice that kitcheri will thicken when it cools and you may need more water than you originally thought.
In order to provide the best quality of energy to your body, kitcheri should be made the day that you wish to eat it and served hot.
*All three body types are safe to garnish with fresh cilantro and/or lime, but if you have a kapha imbalance (you are prone to mucous, congestion and/or overweight) you may do best if you avoid coconut.
RECIPIE from Banyan Botanicals http://www.banyanbotanicals.com/nl/203.html
This is a nice basic recipie, but I added black pepper and used red lentils and brown rice instead of white rice and mung beans. To add extra nourishment I suggest using a rich meat/bone broth to cook the rice in. Even better, add a few handfuls of mineral rich seaweed to the broth as it cooks. To add a little extra fiber, especially if you are experiencing constipation, you could add toasted and ground seasame seeds, ground flax or chia seeds as a topping stirred in after cooking.
Ghee is a delicious cooking oil made from butter, which has been clarified. The process of making ghee removes both milk sugar (lactose) and proteins (casein) from the butter fat, which makes it easier to digest, and appropriate for some people with dairy intolerance. Ghee can be used to cook with, or as a garnish on foods after cooking. If you do not want to use ghee, toasting the spices in olive oil, or coconut oil is also fine.
To make ghee you need a heavy bottom sauce pan, and 1 lb ( or more) of unsalted organic butter.
Melt the butter on low heat. Once liquified it should begin to bubble and sputter as the moisture cooks out of the oil. Milk solids will sink to the bottom of the pan, and a light foam will form on top. After 20-30 minutes or so, the ghee will slow its bubbling ( you will notice small lacy looking bubbles, rather than large sputtering bubbles) and will clear up. You should be able to see through the golden liquid to the bottom of the pan. Be careful, it is easy to burn Ghee, so once the oil has cleared, and the sputtering stops, remove it from the heat. Strain the ghee through a cheesecloth or coffee filter into a clean, dry container. A mason jar works well, but a nice ceramic pot with a lid also is nice to keep on the table.
One made, ghee is stable and will not spoil without refrigeration. It will harden in the container and must be scooped out with a spoon, but will easily melt on warm food or a pan.
One of my other favorite winter foods for the digestive system is stewed fruit. Cold, raw fruit is especially dampening to the digestive fire in winter, and I don't reccomend juice or cold fruit in the chilly winter mornings. But a nice bowl of stewed fruits with warming spices makes a lovely addition to the breakfast or dinner table. It can be spooned onto other foods (cooked porridge, meat, or toast) or eaten as a dessert as is, or with a scoop of coconut yogurt.
Choose one or more seasonal fruits. I like apples, pears, plums, and frozen blueberries or cranberries. But peaches, dates, figs, and even some citrus fruits can be used as well. It is really a matter of taste.
Chop your fruit into chunks, smaller chunks will soften faster and become more saucelike, larger chunks will hold their shape and texture longer.
In a small sauce pan add 1/4 cup of water, chopped fruit, and an assortment of warming spices of your choosing. Cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, clove, fennel, anise, allspice or orange/lemon zest are all good choices for fruit. I also like to add a pinch of sea salt to my fruit. A good dash or two of cinnamon, a pinch or two of clove or cardamom are delicious. Sliced ginger and orange zest are also a good combination. Cover the pan with all the ingredients, and turn on a low simmer for 10 min. Don't forget about your fruit and burn off the water. Keep an eye on it and add more water if needed. Once the fruit has softened, pour into a bowl and serve warm.
You may also decide to add a little honey, maple or molasses as a sweetener after cooking, or top the fruit with toasted nuts and seeds for added crunch.
A few days of a simple diet of these foods can help rekindle the digestive fire, remove Ama without depleting the body, and offer relief from heavy and rich holiday fare. Obviously this isn't a complete diet, and I would only reccomend eating only kitcheri for a few days. But you can include these foods on a daily or weekly basis as a nourishing and stimulating addition to the winter diet. Plus, they are gluten and dairy free!
If you've over indulged at a holiday party and feeling the after effects, or just have the winter blahs, try a day or two of kitcheri, and then go back to a nourishing whole foods diet that includes plenty of warm soups and meat broths, protein rich meats, and cooked vegetables, whole grains and good fats.