Monday, December 5, 2011

Rice with green lentils (inspired by Kitchari)


I don't really have a name at hand for this dish, but the idea comes from Indian kitchari. Last weekend I tried kitchari for the first time at a vegetarian cooking class by beautiful Moscow food blogger Natasha at Sok cafe. Now if I think about feel-good-food kitchari comes to my head as the first idea. I just love the whole idea of combining rice with a legume in one dish. Vegetables add lightness and flavor to it and a touch of hot spices really makes it shine.

I guess after I tweaked the ingredients so much to fit my taste it is safer not to call it kitchari any more. The original dish has roots in Ayurvedic medicine, so I guess there is a rationale behind each ingredient, which I'm not even close to understanding. However part of the idea, as Natasha explained it, is that rice and legumes work well together not just taste-wise but also digestion-wise, so the dish is very comforting. In this sense Indian dal eaten with rice should has a similar effect.

I have to say that Natasha's class presented me a great opportunity to meet people from Moscow vegetarian community. Many of them do not pretend to be strict vegetarians but just prefer to eat without meat or fish most of the time. Everybody has own reasons. Some are health conscious, some like to feel lighter, some don't know why they do this (that's me) - just chose whatever the'd like to eat and it turns out vegetarian.

In this setting nobody was aggressive or opinionated, including Natasha, which I loved. "How would you like your cheese [fellow vegetarians]? Rare / medium / well done?" - she laught while we were frying paneer in spices.
The kitchari we made at the class was cooked on ghee and included basmati rice, mung beans and potatoes with cauliflower, tomatoes, cumin, ginger and turmeric. It was indeed very good, but when I was making it at home afterwards I felt like somewhat different ingredients (some of which are not used in Ayurvedic food) - rice with green lentils, bell peppers, chili, sweet red onions and garlic. I also prefer vegetable oil to ghee.

The cooking process is truly beautiful. First you fry the spices and smell their best aroma - this I absolutely love, then you sautee the veggies. Important is that you add rice at the same time as the lentils. Thus it will get more cooking time then it normally needs and will almost dissolve to create the overall creamy texture.

Rice with green lentils (inspired by Kitchari by Natasha)

serves 6

3 tbs vegetable oil
2 cloves of garlic
1 tea spoon of cumin
1/4 - 1/4 tea spoon of chili powder (depending on your preferred level of spicy)
2 medium red onions
1 large red bell pepper
1 large tomato
150 g rice (long grain, Indian)
100 g green lentils
500 ml water
3 tea spoon of coarse salt or to taste

First prepare all the vegetables. Peel the garlic cloves and halve them lengthwise. Peel the onions and chop into cubes a bit less than 1 cm. Deseed the pepper and chop into 1 cm squares. Peel the tomato and chop into 1 cm cubes. To peel the tomato first make a cross cut on the skin (just to cut the skin and not go deep into the flesh), then deep the tomato in boiling water for 30 seconds. Take it out and remove the skin with your fingers, it will easily separate.


In a large heavy base pan heat the vegetable oil and add the garlic. Fry for 30 seconds till it turns golden, then discard the garlic. Reduce the heat to low. Add the cumin and cook stirring for 30 seconds till it gets fragrant. Add the chili powder and cook just a bit more. Add the onions and cook stirring occasionally for 5 minutes, till they get translucent. Add the peppers and cook stirring occasionally for 5 more minutes. Now it is almost done.


Add the tomato, rice and lentils, water and salt. Give it a good stir, cover and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 40 minutes. Give it a stir every 10 - 15 minutes to prevent it from stirring. If you see that all the water evaporated ahead of time add 100 ml more, bring to the boil again and keep cooking.

After 40 minutes remove from heat and let stand covered for 10 - 15 more minutes. Taste and add more salt if needed, add one more table spoon of oil and give it a last stir. Serve hot. Perfect of lunch or early dinner. It keeps well in the fridge in an airtight container for 2-3 days. To me it is even more flavorful the next day after cooking.


Related posts and links:

Cafe Sok (кафе Сок) Moscow vegetarian, vegan, raw
Suki Maman master class in cafe Sok
Grilled vegetables out of the oven
Thai sticky coconut rice pudding
Ginger tea with orange and raisins
Jagannath Moscow vegetarian restaurant and specialty store

Avocado sister - Natasha's food blog (Russian)