As a young girl, I wasn’t brought up eating a whole lot of hot, steaming, parathas, chapattis, dosas, or vadas for breakfast. As is the case in most Indian households even today. Being Goan, it was more like hard, and soft pao or bread, from one of the three bakeries that surrounded our home in Bandra. This bread was topped with either butter, jam, or eaten with an egg. Anything else was a treat for festivals or special occasions.
On weekends we had plenty of time to play and it was usually when mom prepped meals for the entire week. She worked long hours and would spend most of her Saturday mornings doing so after dad was back from the market. On one such Saturday, as I opened the front door to our home, all sweaty, dirty, and hungry, I was hit with what I then considered the funkiest smell on earth. The smell of butter being clarified. Mum would heat it till the water evaporated and milk solids separated, to form liquid gold otherwise known as Ghee.
Making Ghee was a process. It involved mum patiently collecting the ‘malai’ or thick cream that surfaced to the top after she boiled the milk. Every few days, I would watch her tuck away that cream into a little glass container and place it in the freezer. When she had collected enough, she would go on to make some butter, that was then clarified to make homemade ghee. It sat proudly on her kitchen counter. No refrigeration is required. Improving with age just as long as one didn’t use a wet spoon or let any moisture get into it.
Ghee has been know to be preserved in some cases for many years. Ayurveda uses ghee aged over a hundred years mixed with herbs to treat various conditions and in the past people passed it onto the next generation.
Let’s just say Ghee grew on me. The flavour, that aroma, the comforting feeling it brings when you tuck into a meal that incorporates it, and that brilliant golden colour. As an adult, it is one of my most treasured ingredients, and when my friend in college first served me hot steaming rice and Rajma topped with a dollop of Desi or local Ghee, there was no turning back. Now I always add a small dollop of ghee when eating hot steamed rice or rice and sambar. The addition of ghee to your meals reduces the glycemic index of food. So adding ghee to rice ensures that there is a slow steady rise in blood sugar giving you better energy levels throughout the day.
Why Ayurveda recommends Ghee.
Ghee benefits and balances the whole body and mind. This nutty, rich, utterly delicious, oil is also known as clarified butter is considered one of the most healing oils in the 5000-year-old traditional practice of Ayurveda. It is the reason for every rich and indulgent dish in India. It is also used in the cuisines of The Middle East, Africa, and Southeast Asia.
Ghee originated in ancient India and is also known as Ghrta in Sanskrit. Ayurveda believes that it can renew one’s Ojas, or “life energy“, and balances the mind and body.
Amongst other things, Ghee aids in digestion and elimination while sustaining healthy microbes in the gastrointestinal tract. It is a cooling food. It lowers the body’s temperature, keeps it flexible and lubricates the connective tissue, reduces inflammation, and helps to improve our memory. It is even used to soothe burns and rashes, promotes better absorption of nutrients. My husband puts it over his eyelids to relieve it from strain and to clean and improve his eyesight. My mum, on the soles of her feet, to get a good night’s sleep.
Ghee also helps in weight loss while regulating the body’s metabolism. Balances the heart and increases the good cholesterol while lowering the bad cholesterol.
It is suitable even for people with lactose intolerance as most of the milk solids are removed and lactose or casein is lost during clarification. These are the two compounds in dairy that cause most allergies.
Now onto more uses.
Ghee can be used for deep frying and tolerates high heat cooking. It does not burn easily. It has a high smoke point. It is used to make biryanis, polis, dosa, kichadi, naans, parathas, and rotis. As tempering for curries, stews, dals, and in the preparation of most Indian halvas or sweets. About a year ago when my parents visited, I had it in filter coffee with jaggery. It was strange but delicious. All this being said Ghee is better consumed over food than cooked. Indian food has a lot of spices and ghee aids in getting these spices to the correct part of the body.
Ghee also has many traditional and religious uses. It is poured into the fire at religious Hindu ceremonies to bring purity and used to burn lamps or diyas at Diwali, India’s festival of light.
Cosmetically it softens cuticles, slows down ageing, acts as a makeup remover, a moisturizing hair mask, used to reduce dark circles, as a massage oil, for minor burns, and cuts when mixed with honey, in oil pulling, and much more.
So what exactly is A2 Ghee?
This ghee is made from curd and not from cream or malai as my mother used to make.
Ghee made from clarified butter is different from A2 Ghee or the real McCoy.
Clarified butter contains more moisture and remains in a liquid form.
In the process of making A 2 ghee, the Ghee is simmered for a longer period until all moisture evaporates and the milk solids are caramelized and filtered. This process in itself gives the Ghee a much longer shelf life and a higher smoke point of around 450 degrees F.
Here purebred, grass-fed Gir cows are milked every day at specific times. This milk does not go through pasteurization, skimming, or toning. The milk straight from the udder is poured into large iron kadhai or cast iron wok and is then brought to a slow boil over firewood. Boiled curds are then introduced and it is left overnight to ferment and form Dahi. This Dahi or curd is used to make Ghee.
The Dahi is slowly churned the traditional way using a wooden churner to separate the milk solids from the liquids. This raw white ‘Makkhan’ or butter is further heated using firewood or cow dung in an iron vessel and used to make Ghee. It is at this point we have what India knows as A2 Ghee. This ghee has a smooth, creamy texture and a rich, nutty flavour.
So what does this mean? This means it is a traditional method, incorporating organic ways to make better quality Ghee that packs more punch nutritionally and is beneficial to us as human beings and for the earth in general.
Why is it frightfully expensive? Well, it takes 30-40 liters of milk to make one kg of ghee. But as I say, good food is medicine so and one of life’s best investments.
Neichoru or Kerala ghee rice.
1 Cup Jeerakasala or optimally basmati rice.
2 tbsp Ghee
1-inch cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
5 green cardamoms
1-2 green chillies slit
2 cups of water
Salt to taste
Some lemon juice
1 tbsp ghee
Few cashew nuts and raisins
1-2 onions Sliced
Salt to taste
Wash and soak the rice for half an hour.
Heat the vessel. Add the ghee, followed by the whole spices, the green chilli, and the onions. Sprinkle a bit of salt to help the onions cook faster.
Once the onions are translucent, add the drained soaked rice and fry it gently for a few seconds along with the spices. Now, add the water to the rice and salt to taste. Squeeze in a bit of lemon juice. Once the water comes to a gentle boil, cover it with a lid. Let it cook on a slow flame for ten minutes.
When cooked, turn off the flame, and gently loosen the grains with a fork. In case the jeerakasala or ghee rice is still slightly undercooked, after turning off the flame cover it with the lid again for ten minutes. This is so that the steam in the vessel can work its magic. This variety of rice is nutty in flavour and unlike Basmati is cooked al dente, like pasta.
Article, illustration and photography by Cherida Fernandez