My first encounter with ghee was in a dish that my community, the Parsis, call dhandar (dhun-daar), or what I like to call the dal for all seasons and all reasons. There’s not much to it. It’s made by combining tuvar dal (yellow split pigeon pea lentils), turmeric, salt and water and boiling it until it becomes a delicious pot of golden goodness.
But I’m digressing. Because what makes dal magic, and I’m going to go as far as to say what makes any dish magic, is the ghee. Mum raised me on a steady diet of ghee. It was in my bowl of white rice as a toddler, in the simple vegetable dishes she packed for school lunches and even in all the desserts I loved!
So what is ghee? Essentially, it’s clarified butter cooked for ages until the milk solids separate. The long and slow clarifying process removes casein and lactose, making ghee suitable for the dairy-sensitive.
Making ghee at home is tedious but straightforward. In 90s India, when milk was naturally creamy and packaged fresh cream or unsalted butter wasn’t a thing, the process started a month before you needed the ghee.
Our daily packet of fresh, unpasteurised milk would arrive at 6pm. Granny would empty the bag into her saucepan reserved for milk and boil it. As the milk cooled, the cream would float on the top. She’d scoop the cream off into another container, collecting four to five tablespoons each day. When the container was full, she’d wait for a Sunday afternoon when the home was quiet and get the ghee going.
She’d sit on a chair and do her cross-stitch while watching the stove to make sure the cream boiled without boiling over. The cream would simmer at low heat for two to three hours until a thick, nutty, caramelised aroma filled the home. The white cream would have turned into delicious golden nectar with the milk solids sinking to the bottom of the saucepan. You knew then the ghee was ready to be strained so that all the water could be removed and it become shelf stable.
Because ghee is cooked long and slow, it’s rich in vitamin E, vitamin A and antioxidants. In addition, it may have anti-inflammatory properties and has a very high smoke point. So for my fellow millennials, ghee is the avocado on toast of fats, except that it has been used in Indian cooking for thousands of years.
Many Hindu Indians refer to ghee as the sacred fat because it’s offered on altars and used as food for the gods for centuries.
Me? I call it a sacred fat because blooming your spices in ghee compared to other processed oils like sunflower or rapeseed creates a flavour miracle like no other. Think cooking with butter and multiply that by five (I’d say 10, but I have a few French friends who might get offended).
Recently, I made a spaghetti aglio e olio where I replaced the gentle flavours of olive oil, red pepper flakes and lemon with ghee, garlic, cumin and mustard seeds. The Italians might hate me, but my spaghetti got a whole lot tastier.
Summer is barbecue season, and marinating my snapper in a tadka of ghee, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds and broken chilli was the best idea I’ve had all year. I’ve also started incorporating ghee into my savoury baking, and my cheese scones have never tasted better.
Anywhere you could add butter, I suggest you try ghee. Because oh ghee, I love thee.
Our Spiced Ghee is also better known as tadka or tempering. Made with locally sourced ghee, our tadka can be used anywhere you'd normally use oil or butter. It is especially magical in soups, dahl and stews. Wheat free |… read more