Summer takes everything outdoors: our work, our play, even our cooking. Whether you’re gathered around a barbecue or campfire, or enjoying fresh produce straight off the vine, nature encourages us to slow things down and keep things simple during this time of year—and for good reason. According to Ayurveda, summer is pitta season, where an excess of fire and water elements drain us of energy while our bodies try to stay cool. This leaves our internal digestive fire in a depleted state, and is one of the reasons we crave light foods like fruit and hydrating vegetables.
Yet what we think we should eat during summer and what’s actually good for us is a little counterintuitive. You see, because our agni is weak, it’s even harder to break down tough foods like raw veggies, greasy BBQ, or sugary cocktails, which for many leads to the dreaded summertime bloat. It’s no fun to deal with indigestion when all your friends are playing outside and enjoying themselves, but there’s a simple solution to this common problem: cook your food.
Eating (and preparing) a warm meal in summer might not be immediately appealing, but hear me out: When we choose lightly cooked foods—like grains and steamed vegetables—some of the breakdown that our bodies normally do is already done for us, which is a bonus for an already-overheated agni. Served room temperature or even slightly chilled, cooked meals during the summer will result in much more comfortable digestion, and allow you to more fully enjoy all the things you love about this time of year.
Kitchari is a great dish to turn to as we transition into the summer season, or any time when your gut needs a little rest and reset after overindulging or choosing foods unwisely. This seasonal variation has a bit of an unconventional base; instead of the traditional moong dal, I’ve chosen a smaller proportion of hulled barley to pair with the rice, making the grain portion of the meal lighter and more astringent. It’s packed with fun seasonal vegetables, including one of my favorites, kohlrabi—a juicy, crunchy vegetable that reminds me of jicama. The spices are intentionally minimal so as to allow the flavors of the veggies to really shine, but the ones here do a lot of work to keep agni happy. Fennel, cardamom, star anise, and bay leaves all contribute a cooling energy while still encouraging good digestion, and they’re rounded out with some anti-inflammatory help from turmeric and ginger. Topped with bright, flavorful garnishes, this summer kitchari might just make its way onto your next BBQ menu! Your guests will thank you not only for a delicious twist, but for helping them feel better inside and out.
- 2/3 cup white basmati rice soaked for 30 minutes
- 1/3 cup hulled barley soaked for 30 minutes
- 4 cups water
- 1/2 teaspoon mineral salt
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 3 star anise
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon coconut oil
- 6 cardamom pods crushed
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds crushed
- 1/4 teaspoon hing
- 1 kohlrabi bulb and greens peeled
- 1/2 large eggplant (2 cups) cubed
- 1 small zucchini (1 cup) chopped
- 1 small cucumber (1 cup) chopped
- 1 lime
- 1 cup fresh cilantro chopped
- 1/2 cup sprouts
- 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
- Pinch flaky sea salt
- Drain and rinse the rice and barley 2 to 3 times or until the water runs clear. Place the 4 cups of water and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the grains, turmeric, ginger, star anise, and bay leaves. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer, slightly cover the pot, and cook for 20 minutes until all the water is absorbed and the grains are soft and fluffy.
- In a large saute pan, combine the oil, cardamom, fennel, and hing over low heat. Cook until the hing begins to bubble and the spices are fragrant, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the chopped vegetables, except for the kohlrabi greens, and a splash of water to create steam. Cover and cook for 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Add the greens, and cook for another 5 minutes, or until they are wilted but still bright green.
- To serve, combine the grains and vegetables in each bowl. Top with cilantro, sprouts, a sprinkle of coconut, a squeeze of lime juice, and a pinch of salt. Store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.