Thursday, January 9th, 2014

Winter Cooking Project #3: The Wonders of Ghee

P1290322Today’s cooking project is one of the simplest of the week, so simple that it takes only one ingredient and one pot. That’s it. And the benefits are enormous. Known as ghee in Indian cuisine,  it’s the technique of clarifying butter by heating it until it separates, and then straining the solids so that what is left is a pure fat, which won’t burn when cooked at a higher heat because there are no milk solids present. It’s wonderful for all Indian dishes, like this dish of yellow split peas (chana dal):

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It’s widely used for Indian cuisine, of course, but it’s also good for so many things you’d normally use a bit of fat to cook, from sauteing vegetables to making pancakes. As explained by the wonderful Deborah Madison, “it smells and tastes a little nutty and makes everything extra good.”

For your first batch here’s what you do:

Take 1 pound of butter (4 sticks) and place it in a heavy, medium-sized pot over medium-high heat. Melt the butter and then bring it to a boil (don’t put your head too close to the pot). Once it’s bubbling, lower the heat slightly and let it continue to simmer until the foam on top subsides and brown solids begin to form on the top and bottom of the pot. Eventually the bubbling will also stop.
P1290314At this point the butter will also emit this amazing caramel smell, so you know it’s ready. Once you have a clear liquid and the brown solids, you will need to strain it. The best way to do this seems to be by using a combination of cheesecloth (a material that you never know you’ll need and then suddenly it’s appearance ambushes you in a new recipe, so it’s just handy to have around because you never know) and a strainer. Fold the cheese cloth into thirds, lay it over the strainer, place the strainer in a bowl, and then carefully pour the butter over the cheesecloth so that it catches all the browned bits.

P1290321You will have a bowl of golden ghee, the solids you can discard. You can store the clarified butter in the fridge (it will keep for months), where it will solidify. Some people claim you can keep it on the counter in a secure jar, in a cool place out of direct sunlight, and it will not go bad for days, but I keep mine in the fridge and just scoop out a tablespoon or two as I need it.

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P1290333The first thing I like to make with my batch of ghee, is chana dal–a yellow split pea dish that is the definition of Indian comfort food. HERE is a link to a great recipe, with pretty much everything you need to know about the dish. There’s also THIS version from Food 52. I eat it for dinner and lunch, topping it with whatever garnishes I have on hand: yogurt, toasted shaved coconut, arugula, avocado, arugula, pickled onions, raisins, pomegranate seeds, toasted cashews…

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And then this weekend I will use my ghee to make buckwheat and banana pancakes. Can’t wait!

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