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Indian Food - Ghee or Butter???

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?

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

    1. 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. 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. 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. 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

              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

                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

                  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

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

                    1. re: luckyfatima

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

                  2. re: mrslloyddobler

                    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

                    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. 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

                      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

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

                        1. re: luckyfatima

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

                      2. re: nilali

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


                        1. re: nilali

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

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: paulj

                              paul, enlighten us about "vegetable" ghee!

                              1. re: alkapal

                                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

                                  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

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

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: luckyfatima

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

                                    1. re: luckyfatima

                                      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

                                        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.