The energy of earth changes during each season according to its position towards the sun. These seasonal changes are reflected in nature as well as in the human body. According to macrobiotic philosophy taught by ancient Zen masters and ayurvedic doctrines (science of long life) established by the old sages of India, we should change our diets to stay in harmony with the changing seasons. This philosophy is explained by Elson Haas in his book Staying Healthy with the Seasons and elaborated in The Healing Cuisine by Harish Johari.
Johari recommends different dietary practices for each season. In the heat, dietary bile is sluggish and our bodily fluids need to be constantly replenished to avoid dehydration. So, Johari advises light but substantial, moist, and not too spicy meals during summer months.
Khichadi and kadhi, two light dishes from Gujarati home cooking, are perfect for a summer meal. These humble dishes are rarely found in restaurants, but are served all over India in ashrams (rest houses for religious pilgrims) and consumed as everyday fare by Gujarati villagers. Khichadi is made with brown rice and mung daal (split mung beans). Both ingredients are easy to digest and combine to make complete vegetarian protein. Kadhi is a great companion for khichadi in the summer since it hydrates and cools the body.
– 3 to 3½ cups water
– 1 teaspoon salt
– 1 tablespoon butter, ghee, or oil
– 1 cup short grain brown rice, rinsed and drained
– ½ to 1/3 cup mung dal (with the skin, split), rinsed and drained
Khichadi is considered a humble dish because both brown rice and mung beans are inexpensive in India, and the finished product has a mushy consistency, unlike fluffy and elegant basmati rice. However, it is so nourishing that the oldest man living in the Gujarati village where I come from attributes his longevity to his daily diet of khichadi for supper. It is also a good dish to break a fast since it is nourishing and easy to digest.
First add the salt and butter, ghee, or oil to the water and bring to a boil. Add the grains. Bring to a second boil and simmer the grains vigorously for five minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove some of the foam and the skins that will rise to the top. Stir, cover, and cook over a low heat for 30 minutes. Uncover and check to see if the khichadi needs more water. The finished product should be soft and mushy, so add a little water if the khichadi is too dry. Cover and cook for 10 to 15 minutes more until very soft. Turn the heat off and keep it covered for at least 10 minutes before serving.
Variations: Add ¼ teaspoon turmeric for a colorful khichadi. For a short-cut khichadi, make it with white rice and masoor dal (yellow lentils) using 2½ cups water.
According to one historical source, the word “curry” originated from the British mispronunciation of the name of this dish. Kadhi has always been considered a comfort food, given to children, the elderly, and to all who feel down and out with a cold.
– 2 cups yogurt, buttermilk, or soy yogurt
– 6 to 7 cups of water
– 3 tablespoons besan (chickpea flour)
– 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
– ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
– ¼ each cumin and coriander powder
– A few curry leaves* and/or a few sprigs of cilantro
– 2 cloves of garlic minced and crushed with ¼ teaspoon cayenne to make a paste
– 1 teaspoon oil
– 1 teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
– 2 or 3 whole dried red chili peppers
– a pinch of hing (asafetida)
– 2 tablespoons sugar or honey
First mix the yogurt, water, and chickpea flour thoroughly, using a whisk. Pour the mixture into a large pot and add the salt, turmeric, coriander, and cumin. Cook over a low heat, stirring frequently. If you neglect to stir, the flour may develop lumps. After slow cooking for 25 to 35 minutes, the soup will thicken and start to simmer. Add the curry leaves and/or the cilantro. Add the sugar or honey.
Before adding the next group of spices, take out and save some of the soup for children or others who may not want spicy kadhi. Then stir the garlic-cayenne paste into rest of the soup. Lastly, add the vaghar. This very quick but important step adds a distinctive flavor to the soup. To make the vaghar, take a very small pot like a butter-warmer or a metal measuring cup and heat the oil. Add the mustard seeds and when they begin to pop, add the dry chilies. Quickly add the pinch of hing and then pour all of this smoky mixture into the pot of soup. You may want to dip the small pot right into the soup to get it all off quickly. Immediately cover the soup with a tight-fitting lid so that the vapor from the hot oil mixture gets into the soup and not all over the kitchen. Turn off the heat and keep the soup covered for several minutes. Serve with khichadi or bread.
Variation: Add a handful of peanuts or cashews, and/or sticks of firm vegetables such as celery or carrots for the last few minutes of simmering (before adding the vaghar).
* The curry leaves used in this recipe are known as sweet neem leaves in Indian grocery shops, not to be confused with the bitter neem leaves frequently used in ayurvedic remedies.
Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of Flavors of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine lives in San Francisco where she is a manager of a health food store, Other Avenues. Her daughter Serena Sacharoff is an illustrator and art student.