Monday, September 21, 2009
Ghee, You're Swell
"Muffins are wonderfully quick and easy to prepare, and generally they require only 20 minutes or so to bake. Plus people are fond of muffins--at least I am."--Edward Espe Brown, from The Tassajara Bread Book
Yoga Journal recently had this wonderful recipe for Apple Muffins. It was a gorgeous, sunny Sunday but I was indoors baking muffins. They made the kitchen smell like a scented candle, except the mingling smells of cinnamon and cloves and apple were real, and not created by a chemical factory.
I felt a little guilty not going outside. I half-expected a call from my mother saying, "Get out and enjoy the weather, it's a beautiful day!" She says this often. I expect mothers of pale adult children everywhere say this. And yes, some natural Vitamin A would have been good for my broken foot bones. But I was so excited that it was cool enough to turn the oven on that I chose baking as my sensory pleasure of the moment.
The recipe was fairly straightforward: 2 chopped apples, 2 cups whole wheat flour (I used half King Arthur whole-wheat and half KA all-purpose flour. I find baking with exclusively wheat flour makes the end product too dense), 2 eggs. It called for delightful warming spices, like cinnamon and cardamom and cloves, and 2 TBSP of maple syrup to coat the apples. Dates were also on the list, but as I despise any dried fruit (including raisins) I substituted with chopped walnuts. The only unusual ingredient was Ghee.
I had heard of Ghee before but was scared of it. Before I came to love Indian food, I had heard stories of non-Indians getting sick from Ghee. I always assumed it was spoiled butter.
When I told Mike about needing Ghee, thinking maybe they'd have it in the international aisle in Star Market, he immediately jumped on the computer. He found a cooking blog called Ma Cooks that ticked off the many wonders of Ghee and how to make it at home. Eager for something new to try, Mike got started on the Ghee, frequently stirring the butter in a pan for 15-20 minutes.
Meanwhile I wrestled with the apple corer, shooting tubes of core through the air like I was playing with a rocket launcher. Mike reported that his Ghee didn't look clear enough. Should he skim the foam off the top? There was some talk of using a cheese cloth to strain it, but I wasn't an advanced enough cook to have some just lying around. Ma Cooks had said that the solids would sink to the bottom and get caramelized. She recommended saving this to put on hot cereal. We were both intrigued. Carmelized butter on oatmeal or Cream of Wheat--it sounded heavenly.
But the bottom of the pan eventually scorched, so there was none of that. However, the Ghee that resulted was the same color as the picture on the blog. Frankly, it looked like a urine sample in a jar, but it was too late for me to change my mind.
The muffins came out beautifully, with nice brown tops and a layer of gooey chunks of sweet apples inside. I loved the combination of the softness of the muffin and the crunchiness of the walnuts. They were warm and filling, and since they came from Yoga Journal, they had to be healthy, right?
We each ate two.
The question then was, what do we do with the rest of the Ghee? A few hours after it was made, the consistency thickened and the yellow color went from dark to light. Ma Cooks said she used her Ghee up in a matter of days. But we had never cooked with Ghee before. Could it replace olive oil or butter when we sauteed onions and garlic? Could we drizzle it on popcorn? Or was it strictly an Indian food ingredient? I figured I'd whip up a vegetable curry at some point.
But Michael raved about it. "Smell it," he said, holding the open jar up to my nose. It smelled like the inside of a movie theater, a somewhat stale smell that made you salivate nonetheless.
He smeared a piece of bread with it. "Mmmm" he said. Curiosity got the better of me, even as I worried that I was headed toward intestinal disaster.
It was as delicious as he said. I had a second piece of toast just to savor more Ghee goodness. Again, I had assumed I didn't like something, but never bothered to test my theory. I thought I didn't like Indian food, but proved myself wrong several years ago. I thought I would get sick from Ghee, but so far, so delicious.
I have a feeling we won't be hanging on to our jar of Ghee for very long, either.