“Ghee is an essential ingredient in my dadima’s kitchen, and now…in mine!’
Growing up, ghee (clarified butter) has been synonymous with my dadima (grandmother). My early encounters with this nutty-tasting natural fat were through her cooking. I would enjoy dadima’s delicious aloo parathas, cooked to crispy perfection, and scoop up a creamy mouthful of daal (topped with the essential dollop of ghee). I loved dadima’s sacred pudding karah. I remember sitting cross-legged in the family mandir (shrine) and watching my dadaji (grandfather) light a buttery-scented ghee lamp (or diya) as part of his daily prayer ritual – he still does.
The benefits of glorious ghee (in moderation of course) will come as no surprise to those Asian elders who have been using it for generations. In fact, when I told my grandparents recently that ghee is ‘all the rage’ in Western culture and that I am writing about it, they looked at me perplexed- “Okay, but this is nothing new my child. Us Indians have known this is a special ingredient for years” (loosely translated from Punjabi). Ghee has been a staple ingredient of theirs for years (as with their parents), and therefore it has no novelty factor.
I used to laugh when dadima would tell me that ghee achaa hai (is good for you) and hadiyan noo thaakat dendha (it gives your bones strength). She used to say the same to my mum. Dadima is no doctor, but her father, a desi (of Indian origin) village doctor back then, conveyed its importance to her. My dadima’s early memories of ghee are rooted in her childhood days in India – when her mother would drink a small cup of ghee milk at 3am, to help fuel a day of physical labour (it would be unheard of now – but back then, it was a family remedy for strength).
I’m no doctor or dietitian, but below are some of the reappearing benefits that I’ve read about online, and heard about through family elders.
Culinary and Health:
- Gut health: The fatty acids in ghee are said to reduce inflammation in the body and aid digestion.
- Contains vitamins A, D, E and K (for the immune system, eye health, skin cell growth).
- Lowers the risk of disease: The fatty acid CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), is thought to help ward off heart disease and diabetes.
- Aids digestion: a teaspoon of ghee, along with hot water, is said to help bowel movements. In fact, my grandmother made this for my mum before she went into labour both times!
- Contains Omega 3 and Omega 9 essential fatty acids.
- Dairy-free (almost): As most of the lactose and milk protein is removed with the milk solids during the clarifying process, it makes a good option for the lactose intolerant.
- High smoking point, so it’s great for high temperature, longer duration cooking.
- Taste – now this is one I can vouch for. It’s rich, creamy, nutty taste is favoured in the cooking of many grandmothers I have met – in both sweet and savoury dishes.
- Shelf life: Unlike butter, ghee doesn’t need to be kept in the fridge, and is said to last for up to three months when stored in a clean, airtight container
- A little goes a long way – ghee can be used sparingly in savoury dishes.
- Ghee acts as a good carrier of herbal mixtures to cells and organs
- Healing skin – Traditionally, ghee has been used on the skin to soothe burns and to heal skin injuries.
- The intrinsic properties of ghee are said to balance certain ‘doshas’ (body types). For example: Being soft, oily, dense and liquidy, ghee is associated with longevity. It’s consumption is said to pacify the qualities of a dosha associated with ageing.
- According to Ancient Indian tradition, the most auspicious time to make ghee is during the full moon, for its associations with Mother Nature and purity.
- Due to its balmy texture, ghee has also been celebrated for its moisturising quality on the lips, hair, face and body. My dadaji (grandad) is testimony to its success!
It’s amusing that cooking in saturated fats were traditionally slated, and now ghee has become a fashionable sensation in the West; championed in the wellness world, by celebrities, and dietitians, for its beauty, culinary and health benefits. Like ‘turmeric latte’ (it’s actually called ‘haldi doodh’ – but more on that in my upcoming blog), ghee has been made ‘sexy’. Interestingly, butter is highly regarded in the Indian culture, with sacred connotations for its association with the cow, and in the famous and beautiful portrayal of Lord Krishna as the innocent ‘butter thief’ (see image below).
Make it yourself:
Below, I expand on the recipe in dadima’s book (featured under ‘Kitchen Wisdom’), which my dadima has taught me. I made a large batch of ghee and it took just over an hour – do scale up or down according to your preference and needs. The method is simple – it just requires patience, and you can quite easily multi-task around the kitchen during the process. All we’re doing is separating the butter into three layers (excuse my simple illustration below!):
Ingredients: x 12, 250g blocks of unsalted butter (my dadima uses unsalted)
You will need:
- A muslin cloth. If you don’t have a muslin cloth, you can use a very fine sieve or tea strainer- which is what my dadima sometimes does. To make sure nothing seeps through the sieve, place a piece of kitchen roll on top of it (it works – I’ve tried it).
- Lidded glass jars for storage (recycle old jars to save the environment)
- A heavy-based, deep pan (I used my deep stock pan)
- Once the butter has melted, don’t stir the bottom of the pan as this is where the separated milk solids settle.
- Use good quality butter as I think it does make a difference.
- Leave the ghee to cool until tepid, before straining.
Method (see my short Instagram videos alongside this):
- Melt the butter blocks over a moderate heat. Stir occasionally to help the melting process.
2. Bring the melted butter to a light bubble over a moderate heat – you will see a white foamy layer appearing at the surface.
3. Reduce to a simmer and stir through, avoiding the bottom of the pan. Simmer until the foamy layer starts to disappear (the bubbles will become bigger and translucent) and the liquid ghee becomes a rich, clear golden colour. Use your spoon to sweep off the foamy layer and check that the milk solids have all settled to the bottom of the pan. Once the three layers have separated, take off the heat. I simmered for around 45 minutes.
4. Leave to cool for around 20 minutes. This will allow the milk solids to properly settle at the bottom of the pan. Over the sink, carefully pour the ghee into a jug. Then, pour into your clean glass jar, through the muslin cloth (or sieve). Be careful not to spill any precious ghee.
7. Here is a photo of the milk solids which settle at the bottom of the pan.
8. This is how much ghee my 12 blocks of butter yielded. I’ll be giving a jar each to my grandmothers, and a special aunt who has requested some!
Storage: Refrigerate ghee in a clean, glass, airtight container. It will soften and melt at room temperature and will be solid when refrigerated. Keeps well for a good 2-3 months in the fridge (but look for obvious signs of spoilage or smell). Spoon out as and when needed (with a clean spoon) and it will melt in the pan.
Usage: I use ghee mostly in my Indian cooking (especially when making the masala base for daal, for chicken and to smother over parathas – see recipes in dadima’s book). However, ghee can be used in everyday cooking as an alternative to coconut oil or cooking oil in everyday recipes. Just bear in mind it’s creamy, nutty taste. I love using it for fried eggs too.
Let me know how you get on with the recipe. Happy cooking with ghee and enjoy the magical buttery scent filling your kitchen! Please do share this blog for everyone to benefit from the gheeeeee-licious love.
Disclaimer: Ghee is a saturated fat and should be consumed in moderation. The benefits listed above are for informational/ entertainment purposes only and should not be treated as a nutritional guide. Alongside the benefits listed above (some of which are known, not proven), there are also drawbacks as with other fats. For medical and health advice, please consult a GP or dietician.