Saturday, March 25, 2006

Ghee Whiz!: The "Secret Name of Butter"


Ghee is pretty amazing stuff. Let's start with the plug it gets in the Rig Veda:

This is the secret name of Butter:
"Tongue of the gods," "navel of immortality."
We will proclaim the name of Butter;
We will sustain it in this sacrifice by bowing low.
These waves of Butter flow like gazelles before the hunter...
Streams of Butter caress the burning wood.
Agni, the fire, loves them and is satisfied.

This hymn is sung while pouring ghee into a fire, an act which literally reproduces the story of Prajápati, Hindu Lord of Creatures, rubbing his hands together and pouring out ghee onto the flames to create progeny--thus the "navel of immortality" bit, I suppose.

Ghee, for the uninitiated, is mega-clarified cow's milk butter used primarily in Indian cooking. It's basically butter that acts permanantly melted and doesn't spoil because the milk solids have been removed. It also has the power to render any food cooked by anybody (even unclean folks like myself) pakka, "complete" or "superior," and thus acceptable for consumption by Brahmins. Virtually all major Hindu rites involve ghee. That's right people, it's a butter-based religion. What's not to love?

Ghee was the answer to my prayers this week. Dinner was about to hit the table when I realized I'd forgotten to do anything with a huge vat of boiled new potatoes. I had the usual French-syle rosemary, garlic, cream default in mind. But when I stuck my head in the spice cabinet looking for a quick fix, there was the jar of ghee and a packet of kalonji (black onion seeds). Indian spices+tiny French potatoes=Problem solved.

Perhaps Prajápati was smiling upon me.

Citations update: There are some great Indian food blogs out there, including Hooked on Heat and One Hot Stove, both of which inspire this aspiring Indian home cook. Hooked on Heat is hosting a food blog event called From My Rasoi with a "fusion" theme this month, for which I'll be entering this ghee experiment. Ghee trivia stolen from this butterblog.

***
Curried, Smashed New Potatoes with Ghee

Fill a dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot with water and set on a hot burner. Don't watch the pot--it'll never boil. Instead, scrub and halve:
2 pounds new potatoes

When water boils, add potatoes and boil for 20 minutes, or until very tender. You can do this ahead and leave them in the hot water until you're ready to use them. Just don't forget about them.

Just before you eat, drain the potatoes in a colander. Return the pan to the burner, crank up the heat to medium-high/high and add:
4 Tablespoons ghee
If you don't have ghee, you can use a combination of butter and vegetable oil, but the result won't be as flavorful.

When the ghee starts to bubble, add:
2 generous Tablespoons Penzeys Maharajah curry powder, or other curry
1 Tablespoon kalonji
(aka onion seeds, nigella, black cumin, etc)
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Fry spices for 2 minutes, until fragrant, then add the potatoes and stir to coat. Lightly smash the potatoes with the side of the spoon. Don't get too enthusiatic, or you'll end up with a gluey mess. I like my potatoes with browned crunchy bits, so I left them in the hot pan for awhile longer, but they're basically ready to eat whenever you are.

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