Runam kritva, ghritam pibet…

Take a loan, and drink ghee! So goes the Sanskrit saying…


What can we say about this golden elixir, except that it has entrenched itself firmly in not only Indian kitchens, but now is slowly making it’s way into many western ones as well. Long before the west woke up to the amazing benefits of ghee, we had internalised its importance in our diets, prayers and medicine. No yadna or havan was complete without this, and it became the most important constituent in Ayurvedic panchakarma treatments. Such was the status given to ghee, that it became one of the panchamrits (the other four being milk, curd, honey and sugar – in specific proportions).

Since I already had a post on butter, could ghee be far behind? What exactly, then is ghee? Ghee or clarified butter as it is now called, is cooked butter  , in which all the milk solids have been left behind (we called them beri) and only the fats from the milk remain. It is said to be the best cooking medium, as it has high smoking point. Comprised of short chain fatty acids, it is easily digested, even by those who are lactose intolerant.

Why so much gyaan on ghee suddenly you may ask? Because it is high time we wake up to its beneficial properties, and stop shunning it in the name of fat. Our grandmothers and great-grandmothers knew how important it was, and thus had lovingly mastered the art and science of making it, and passed it down through the generations.

In my mom’s household, milk cream was collected and fermented using yogurt. This was then churned to make butter, and from this white butter, ghee would be made. It would definitely be atleast a fortnightly affair, or at its worst monthly. Of course, you had to keep an eye on the loni when toop was being made (it was called kadhavne in Marathi- the process of cooking butter. As a side note – I am only amazed at the rich vocabulary of my mother tongue, for there is no exact word in English which will replace it, hence ‘cooked’), else it would burn quickly after a point. And we have known to have burnt many batches, because the one who was supposed to pay attention didn’t!! (Usually that task was allotted to dad). And now I know from the Scientist that ours was not the only household (which burnt ghee batches I mean)!!

My brother was more partial to ghee than I was, and he guarded the newly made ghee with fanaticism. He would dole out the meagre spoonfuls, and you couldn’t dare to ask for seconds! He had named it “the economy”, and would remark that “the economy” was going down from time to time, it bearing no resemblance to country’s or world’s state at the given point in time. So periodic reminders were sent to mom, to revive and replenish “the economy”.

This home-made ghee would then be liberally applied to rotis, on steaming rice, with idly or dosa (yes), or on special sweets (like sheera..yess!! and oh puran polis and modak, of course!!). I remember having eaten many a phulkas or bhakris (kind of Indian bread, roasted on open flame) with just ghee. Of course toop-sakhar-poli or toop-gul-poli has made its way into many a Maharashtrian tiffins for school or after-work snack. And dal-bhat never tasted the same without the requisite dose of toop, something which we were made to eat only when we had high fever (no ghee then!). You were introduced to mau toop bhat when you first started solids. And from then onwards, no meal was complete without that in our household. Mom would make dosas and idlys aplenty, so I would always have the first few steaming idlys and last dosa with spoonfuls of ghee.

And even if its’ repeated again here, puran polis had to be doused with enough ghee to wet it or dunked in special watis of ghee before taking the first bite. Not only that, there was a special protocol followed for the puran poli. These polis would be served folded, and the server would wait for the eater to unfold it, so ghee could be served within those folds, and then the eater would fold it again, for a second application, before proceeding to eat it. I known enough kakas and kakus, who would wait for ghee to be served, when we would have a pangat (a sit-down affair) in our homes on special occasions. That task usually fell to me, after mom had made the rounds with just-off-the-tawa puran poli. And I had to ensure that the small bowl of ghee was always full, and the ghee properly melted before serving. Thick, solid ghee didn’t go well with puran poli. It has to be of pouring consistency, so that it would soak up the puran, more so if the puran was made from sugar, and hence drier. Of course no pangat ever started without the customary ghee poured on the mounds of steaming rice and dal. There are so many memories of such pangats, be it at home or in temples.

Another noted Marathi sweet, that is incomplete without the ghee is the ukdiche modak. You had to break open this sweet dumpling, so that ghee would be poured inside and then polish it off. For this the ghee had to be a bit solid. If it had the grainy texture, that would make it perfect. For you had to taste the ghee, before tasting the modak’s filling in this case. The Scientist has noted that ghee would be served with balushahi just like it was with puran poli, though I have never eaten a balushahi that way (he has!). I have known my uncle to eat it with sheera (the said sheera having been made in ghee itself!). Of course other fried sweets like jalebis or gulab jamuns, roasted ones like laddoos would also be made in ghee. But for those store bought ghee would (at least) be acceptable. Not so for the modak or puran poli.

When I shifted to Hong Kong last year, I had taken packed, homemade ghee with me. And then again some to Taipei. But that, I knew, would not be the best solution. I of course would not make the effort of heating milk and setting aside the cream (here I just pour the milk straight from the tetra pack), and thus would need a short-cut, if I was to have my own home-made ghee. So after some search, I came across ghee making tutorials, using store bought unsalted butter. And yes, it was a hit! Though the taste of the ghee was slightly different to the Indian cow or buffalo ghee, it tasted far superior to the Amul ghee available in the Indian store here.So now ‘home-made’ ghee it is, in our Taipei household.

What about you? Does ghee figure in your homes and meals too?

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