One of my four personal chef clients is a vegetarian yoga teacher. In my tenure cooking for her, I’ve enhanced my culinary education by learning to make a lot of Indian and Ayurvedic dishes (a 5000 year old Indian tradition of using food and herbs medicinally). I’m much more comfortable making my own curry blends and have developed an understanding of how to use some of more typical Indian spices in unusual ways, including cinnamon sticks, turmeric, cardamom pods, and cumin, mustard, fennel and coriander seeds.
My most wonderful discovery though, has been ghee. Ghee is clarified butter that has been cooked until all the water boils off and the milk solids have separated. According to professional chefs from the Ayurvedic tradition (check out VedicSociety.org), it has a plethora of medicinal properties that range from lubricating joints to treating digestive conditions like ulcers and colitis to improving the quality of semen. Though I haven’t ingested enough of it myself to verify these claims, I’m totally smitten with it as a culinary ingredient, as is my client, who asks me to use it in place of all cooking oils. Some of it’s more provable attributes are that it’s safe for those with lactose intolerance and has no cholestrol.
Not only does ghee have a remarkably high burning point, it has a smooth, nutty taste that compliments the dals, kitcharis, and curries I make for her every week. It’s not cheap if you buy it in the store though, so I’ve learned to make a large batch of it once a month, then use it every week while I’m at her house. It keeps for a long time, even unrefrigerated, if you prepare it properly. Here’s how I make mine:
Start with a pound of the best unsalted butter you can afford. if you’re going for the health value, buy organic. Heat the butter in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan over low heat. The butter will start to bubble and sputter as the water leaves and there will emerge a white foam on top. Turn the heat down as low as possible and stir occasionally.
Eventually (it could take 15 minutes or more depending on how much butter you start with) there will be a double layer of foam on top and a layer of brown milk solids on the bottom. You can continue to cook it until the foam has settled to the bottom, or you can spoon off most of it while it’s still on top. The goal is to get all the solids and the water out of the butter without burning the remaining ghee. When it’s done, the ghee will smell nutty and be golden in color and translucent.
Take a cheese cloth and put it over a glass jar. Strain the ghee through the cloth, thereby removing all the solids and foam. It will last a long time stored it in the fridge (it becomes spreadable quickly) or on the counter, so long as all the water is gone and no crumbs, etc., get left in it. You can use it just like butter: on bread and baked goods and to saute veggies, chicken, and fish in without worrying about burning it. Happy cooking!