Friday, November 27, 2009

Fun With Butter

Today would have been mi abuela’s 100th birthday. She didn’t quite make it and passed away a couple months shy of 98. I still miss her, but at the risk of sounding trite, she’s still with me in a very real way and I’m working to see that the wisdom she passed down to me is passed down to my children as well.

Although she had very little formal education, my grandmother was a smart woman who could not only think on her feet, but had no problem arguing with conventional wisdom. One of the things she credited her long life to was butter. Yes, I said butter. Butter is good for you, she insisted, much better than any margarine, oleo, or other butter substitute. If you’re worried about fat, she insisted, don’t use so much.

Although she didn’t approve, I grew up to become a competent cook. (Grandma didn’t like men in her kitchen. I was thirty before I was allowed to even open the refrigerator at her house). Many cooks will tell you that their secret ingredient is love. Not me, mine is butter. I’m not sure I believe in butter as health-food, but I use it anyway for no other reason than that it tastes better. It turns out though, that she might have been at least partially right.

As I contemplate and strategize to achieve a simpler life, one of the stumbling blocks I came upon was dairy. I know how to make butter and cheese, but it’s unlikely that I’m ever going to own a cow and without raw ingredients, that knowledge is academic. Of course, it’s possible that I might be able to barter for dairy, but then there’s the matter of preservation. So I did some research and this is what I found:


Ghee is clarified butter. It’s made by simmering unsalted butter in a large pot until all of the water has been boiled off and the milk solids have settled to the bottom. The clear-yellow liquid is your clarified butter and is spooned off to avoid disturbing the sediment at the bottom of the pot. You now have ghee which can be stored without refrigeration so long as you keep it in an airtight container and free of moisture. Ghee can be canned, and if you visit a Middle Eastern grocer, you can find pre-canned ghee on the shelves. I haven’t canned any myself, so I don’t know the details yet. I’ll find out though and post the results.

Ghee is composed entirely of saturated fat and some studies have shown that ghee reduces serum cholesterol (LDL). Clarified butter consists of short-chain fatty acids that are metabolized very quickly by the human body. It also has a higher smoke point than regular butter, making it useful for sautéing.

The Fun Part

Ghee, although it may not be called Ghee is used around the world in interesting ways. Niter Kibbeh is a variation used in Ethiopian cuisine. It differs from ordinary ghee in that during the simmering stage, spice like cumin, coriander, turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, garlic, cloves, or nutmeg are added. The herbs themselves are not included in the finished project. This adds interesting flavors and scents to what might otherwise be a boring dish. There are endless variations and combinations of spices that can be used. I’ve experimented with some and the results have been amazing. It’s even more satisfying when you’ve cut the herbs from your garden just before you add them to the simmering butter.

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