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Indian Food - Ghee or Butter???

mrslloyddobler Oct 25, 2009 02:05 PM

I can only find ghee for $11 a jar, which is pretty ridiculous in my opinion. For rice and lamb dishes, is it ok to substitute ghee for plain old butter? Or will the dishes be ruined?

  1. luckyfatima Oct 28, 2009 12:12 AM

    By the way, how much does a tub of ghee cost at the Indian grocery? $11 sounds really high.

    3 Replies
    1. re: luckyfatima
      alkapal Oct 28, 2009 05:45 AM

      in the arlington, virginia indian grocery, it'd be a large jar of ghee -- i'm guessing 32 ounces.

      1. re: luckyfatima
        MikeG Oct 28, 2009 07:10 AM

        In Queens, New York, you can get 2 lbs of Amul or other subcontintal ghee for around $8. The US-made Vrindavan brand seems fairly popular at $8/lb. But while it is very high compared to that, $11 for a small jar (8 oz?) at an "American" store isn't shocking, some places are even higher.

        1. re: MikeG
          caliking Oct 28, 2009 02:57 PM

          There are different kinds of ghee - 2 kinds that I know of are ghee from eastern India/Bengal (greyish brown) and ghee form northern India (buttery yellow). The solids in the eastern ghee are allowed to brown while the northern type is made by heating butter at low temp for a long time and skimming the solids off the top periodically. The yellowish ghee has a more mellow flavor.

          The smoke point for ghee is much higher than butter, so straight substitution of ghee with butter does not always work when frying is called for.

      2. paulj Oct 27, 2009 12:33 AM

        While she was growing up, Madhur Jaffrey's father managed a vegetable ghee factory.

        4 Replies
        1. re: paulj
          alkapal Oct 27, 2009 06:46 AM

          paul, enlighten us about "vegetable" ghee!

          1. re: alkapal
            paulj Oct 27, 2009 08:44 AM

            I think it's the Indian equivalent to our Crisco. I haven't used or payed much attention to it in the stores.

            1. re: alkapal
              Paulustrious Oct 27, 2009 08:49 AM

              Stay clear - it's a mixture of trans fats and palm oil. This is one of those circumstances where you should hedge your veg.

              1. re: alkapal
                Caitlin McGrath Oct 28, 2009 02:12 PM

                As noted, it's a hydrogenated shortening version of ghee. People in India choose it because it's cheaper, I believe, just as they traditionally did margarine in the US (prior to the claims about cholesterol before trans fats were understood).

            2. luckyfatima Oct 26, 2009 12:45 AM

              I only use pure ghee for frying in certain sweet dishes. I never cook any dishes in ghee or butter. As a cooking medium just use plain oil. Sunflower is good. Then, at the end of the cooking, you can drizzle a little ghee or butter over your rice or stir it into your dish to perfume it. This is especially good on rice.

              I actually prefer the taste of a pat of butter than ghee. That is just my preference though.

              1. n
                nilali Oct 25, 2009 08:07 PM

                Quit using ghee...its so bad for us.I use olive oil for all the indian dishes I make and they come out deliciousssssssssssss

                5 Replies
                1. re: nilali
                  alkapal Oct 26, 2009 06:54 AM

                  quit using ghee because it's "bad for us"? one does not drink it, after all! so i think it'll stay in my pantry to give that elusive flavor to my basmati rice!

                  1. re: alkapal
                    luckyfatima Oct 26, 2009 11:02 PM

                    Some people do drink ghee and swear it gives you good health and long life!

                    1. re: luckyfatima
                      alkapal Oct 27, 2009 06:46 AM

                      wow! it'd sure slicky-up the old GI tract! ;-)).

                  2. re: nilali
                    Channa Oct 26, 2009 08:07 AM

                    In one study, ghee seemed to lower the serum cholesterol of rats:


                    1. re: nilali
                      chefj Oct 28, 2009 12:09 PM

                      Olive oil gives a very odd taste to most Indian dishes, especially southern ones. Olive oil also has a very low smoking point so it does not work well for tempering spices.You could use other vegetable oils, coconut, soy etc. but it sounds like the poster's recipe was adding it for flavor. Olive Oil would not be appropriate.

                    2. g
                      gordeaux Oct 25, 2009 07:40 PM

                      Don't quote me, but I think the smoking point is raised dramatically once butter is clarified.
                      You can make your own, but if you use staright butter for something that needs high heat, and your butter burns, don't say you weren't warned. I make Ind food all the time. I use cooking oil.

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: gordeaux
                        mrslloyddobler Oct 25, 2009 07:53 PM

                        A friend gave me recipes for stovetop rice. According the rice recipe, I should heat up the pot with veg oil, add cinnamon sticks, bay leaves and cardamon pods, before adding the rice. Once the rice is stirred around, I'm supposed to add the ghee, then add water. Do you think ghee makes a big difference?

                        Since my post, I've googled ghee techniques, and you're right, it seems pretty easy to make at home. I don't have cheese cloth on hand, so I'm thinking of using coffee filters instead.

                        BTW, does anyone make any beef curry dishes? What cut of meat would work best? I was thinking of cubing some chuck roast.

                        1. re: mrslloyddobler
                          luckyfatima Oct 26, 2009 12:46 AM

                          Beef curry takes a long time for the beef to get tender. Be sure to brown or braise the beef first then slow cook. Since you will be using a slow cooking method, any normal cut that you would usually slow cook is ideal. I use shank, personally. I simmer it on a very low flame for 8 hours or so.

                          1. re: mrslloyddobler
                            gordeaux Oct 26, 2009 07:32 AM

                            For your rice, I'd assume using ghee is a preference thing, more than a necessity thing.
                            Random beef dishes in sauce (curry) that come to mind.
                            Nehari or Nihari

                            1. re: gordeaux
                              luckyfatima Oct 26, 2009 11:04 PM

                              I'd classify haleem as a porridge type food rather than a gravy type food.

                              1. re: luckyfatima
                                gordeaux Oct 27, 2009 05:33 AM

                                Very true, my mistake. Here, the haleem is usually offered with beef chunks in the Pakistani restaurants.

                            2. re: mrslloyddobler
                              alkapal Oct 26, 2009 07:46 AM

                              here is a sri lankan recipe for beef curry: http://www.chow.com/recipes/14154
                              whatever cut you use, you must remove ALL gristle, sinewy bits before cubing (and don't make the cubes too large -- keep to bite size). the better your prep, the nicer your curry will be in the end. don't skimp in prepping the meat.

                            3. re: gordeaux
                              paulj Oct 25, 2009 08:03 PM

                              I suspect that ghee has been traditionally used in India because of its long shelf life compared to butter. After removing the water and milk solids you are left with almost pure butter fat.

                              In a lightly flavored rice, the flavor of ghee (or even butter) will be more noticeable than in a heavily flavored stew (curry).

                            4. paulj Oct 25, 2009 05:01 PM

                              In many cases you can use plain cooking oil. Sure there are cases where the flavor is significant, but other times the ghee is just a frying medium.

                              1. Channa Oct 25, 2009 03:03 PM

                                Ghee is cooked longer than clarified butter -- until the solids turn brown. That gives it a wonderful, toasty flavour, and allows it to be kept at room temperature supposedly indefinitely. (I keep it in the fridge just in case.)


                                Do try making it yourself. It’s easy, and far tastier than those in shops. That said, you could always use your favourite cooking oil.

                                1. Paulustrious Oct 25, 2009 02:34 PM

                                  I assume you mean "substitute ghee with plain old butter".

                                  As kubasd says, ghee is clarified butter. Butter has a water content and ghee does not. Depending on the dish (eg with dosas) this will make a difference. Easiest thing to do is just heat butter in a frying pan until it stop sizzling. (ie boiling out the water) then use it in your dish,

                                  1. kubasd Oct 25, 2009 02:09 PM

                                    as far as i know, ghee is just clarified butter, so you could make your own..... But i mean, i'm no expert...

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