Well, I am stepping on some slippery ground! I am going to take you through the story of ghee this week and you have to decide whether ghee needs to play a role in your healthy eating plan. Where would paranthas and halwas and garama-garam phulkas be without ghee? Inspite of all warnings from experts about ghee being a ‘bad fat’ I continue to use it judiciously in my cooking. It is not just the flavour and the aroma of the ghee, it is the Indianess of this ingredient that makes it so difficult for me to forgo it.
Well, ok, I admit that gone are the days that allowed one to have one or two hot flaky ghee dripping paranthas for breakfast. But then paranthas made with oil are also history! I will not hestiate in having a parantha made with a little ghee though. Ghee is a healthy fat as it a natural by-product of milk.
It is also funny that I am unable to use the words Indian clarified butter for ghee. Because ghee (in Hindi) or gheeo (in Punjabi) or toop (in Marathi) is an all important part of Indian cooking. It would also refresh you to know that ghee is known as samna baladi in Egyptian Arabic and is an importatnt ingredient in not only Egyptian cuisine but also in Ethiopia where niter kibbeh is made and used in much the same way as ghee, but with spices added during the process that result in a distinctive taste. Moroccons take this one step further, aging spiced ghee in the ground for months or even years, resulting in a product called smen. In Northeastern Brazil, a non-refrigerated butter very similar to ghee, called mantiega-de-garrafa (butter-in-a-bottle), is extremely popular.
Ghee also has an important role to play in Hindu Vedic rituals. Any havan is incomplete without ghee as it THE medium for the holy fire. Be it the diya for aarti at a puja or be it a small diya in our everyday puja, ghee is considered as holy. It also forms part of the prasad panchamrut. We also have Ayurveda backing ghee. It is believed that ghee helps to balance excess stomach acid, and helps to maintain and repair the mucus lining of the stomach. Another point worth mentioning is that ghee has a very high smoke point and does not burn or smoke easily during cooking. Because ghee has the more stable saturated bonds it is not as likely to form the dangerous free radicals when cooking. Additionally, since all the milk proteins have been removed during the clarifying process, ghee gains further nutritional value because it’s lactose free, making it a safer alternative for those who are lactose intolerant.
What has confused most is the difference between pure ghee (desi ghee) and the synthetic ghee which is made with hydrogenated vegetable oils. This is a mock ghee with the texture being grainier, the aroma being less fragrant and the prices much lower than pure ghee. This vegetable ghee is actually polyunsaturated or monounsaturated partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, a trans-fat. Trans-fats are increasingly linked to serious chronic health conditions. People with high cholesterol are advised not to consume ghee. The combination of saturated fat and cholesterol can increase the risk for heart disease. The problem, of course, is that few of us follow strict diets, and nor do we match the physical work that most people following rich diets would have done in older days.
One simple recipe that is quick to make -Ananas ka Meetha: Heat 1½ tablespoons of ghee in a kadai, add one peeled and finely chopped pineapple and sauté for five minutes or till all the water is absorbed. Add ¼ cup sugar and stir till the sugar dissolves. Add 1 teaspoon green cardamom powder and cook. Heat another1½ tablespoons ghee in another pan; add ¼ cup chironji and 15-20 cashew nuts and sauté till golden. Add to the pineapple and mix. Add 2 cups of grated khoya and mix well. Cook till the khoya is heated through. Serve hot.