Frying is generally bad for you – example: frying unsaturated oils leads to the production of trans-fats which can contribute to cardiovascular disease, frying carbohydrates leads to the production of acrylamides & glycidamides which are carcinogenic, and frying proteins causes the production of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which can contribute to cancer and are one of the reasons processed meats are considered a contributor to cancer by the WHO.
So why do I suggest frying spices might be a good idea? When spices are slowly cooked in a tempering oil, the aromatic compounds, which are better drawn out by oil as they fat soluble, are released into the oil. When cooking, these aromatic compounds suspended in oil are better able to permeate the dish so that we taste and smell cumin, garlic, ginger, mustard seeds, and curry leaves leading to the sensory experience that is characteristic of Indian food.
Why ghee? Ghee has been used in Ayurveda for millenia as a food, a vehicle for herbs (it is a fat so it helps absorption of fat soluble medicinal compounds), and for home remedies. When I was growing up and no one was supposed to eat any fat, everyone stopped putting ghee in their food. I tell my family, friends and patients who are South Asian to continue to cook their spices in ghee and flavor their foods with it. Why? Because I would rather they enjoy half a teaspoon of ghee and to flavor their foods and cut the huge amounts of white rice, white flour, and sugar that South Asians tend to indulge in. Also, ghee is a stable oil with a higher smoke point, and cooking olive oil to high temperatures necessary to cook Indian spices for tempering may not be as safe as unsaturated fats can become harmful when they oxidize, and even become harmful trans fatty acids. The nutritional community has decided for sure that trans-fats are certainly worse than saturated fat. And yes, ghee has saturated fat, but if you plan to put as little as 1 tablespoon of ghee in a large portion of cooked vegetable, then you might as well do things the traditional way, especially if theoretically you are creating harmful trans fats by frying unsaturated olive oil.
Ghee is easily available in Indian grocery stores and online nowadays. I am particularly fond of a couple of different brands. Pure brand is a good one, and I recently discovered Eat Good Fat brand ghee. Both are grassfed and organic, and taste really fresh. I tend to trust organic valley and they have started making ghee as well, but I have not tried their ghee. So why make ghee? Because no matter how good the brand you buy, fresh ghee tastes the best. It is also MUCH cheaper to make the ghee than to buy all of the above brands I quoted to you and it lasts a really long time.
Below are step by step instructions on how to make ghee with pictures. Enjoy!
3 sticks of butter – I use grassfed butter, preferrably from a farm.
- Turn the stove to medium, put 3 sticks of butter in a pot and place on the stove. Wait for the butter to melt and then boil. The boiling goes through 2 stages. The first time it boils, you end up with a white precipitate.
- With the second boiling point, you start to see a film of proteins build up on the top and then the ghee boils again. As soon as the precipitate starts to turn brown, turn off the stove and take the ghee off the stove.
- When the ghee stops boiling, you will see brown precipitate at the bottom. This is very much edible, but NOT healthy for you – my husband’s family mixes a spoon of sugar with it. It tastes amazingly deliciously unhealthy.
- Sieve the ghee through a cheese cloth, and its done! I have pictures below for each step. Enjoy!