Ghee & Healthy Fats

Ghee 1

I wanted to share with you today what fats and oils I use in my kitchen on a daily basis. This seems to be a confusing area for a lot of people (it definitely was for me when I first started cooking).

As with most else, I favor the most traditional and pure choices I can find. For me, these are coconut oil, olive oil, almond oil, and butter/ghee. From their names alone, you know their source, which already says something, doesn’t it?

Why no canola oil, no vegetable oil, no sunflower/safflower oil? Because these are highly refined oils that are nowhere near healthy choices. In brief, refined oils are made by highly intensive mechanical and chemical processes that extract the oil from the seeds. The oil is then heated until it goes rancid, then oxidized/deodorized to remove any off-scents. The oxidation factor makes these oils more likely to break down into those nasty things known as free radicals, which wreak havoc on our bodies and health. I’ll pass.

Here’s a little more about the oils I do love and why/where I use them. [There are a few others I use less frequently, such as red palm oil, pastured lard, bacon grease, and schmaltz, but the following five are my daily staples.]

Coconut oil. Great for higher heat cooking (like shallow-frying) and roasting vegetables. The oil itself has antifungal and antimicrobial properties; is uniquely high in medium chain trigylcerides (MCTs), which contribute to brain health; and has been used by traditional, tropical cultures for centuries. It has a slight coconut flavor, so I often use half coconut oil and half butter or ghee when cooking. I also like to use it in baking (like in these cookies). Brand-wise, I either order through the online company Tropical Traditions, or just go with Whole Foods’ 365 brand.

Almond oil. This oil has a very neutral flavor and is great for high-heat cooking, which is what a lot of Indian dishes require (its smoke point, or the highest heat it can sustain without burning, is 420 degrees F). It’s also high in healthy monounsaturated fats. I think this is one of those oils that will only grow in popularity as more people learn about it. [Interestingly, Indians also use it as an all-natural hair and skin moisturizer.] We buy it from the Indian grocery store for about $10/bottle, so it’s similar in price to olive oil.

Olive oil. This is one that will always be one of my favorites. We all know good olive oil is for us; like almond oil, it’s high in monounsaturated fat, which can help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. I like to use it for lighter applications that require no or little heating, such as in salad dressings, as a dip for bread, or for light sauteing. I always look for extra-virgin, cold-pressed when I can find it. For the past year or so, we’ve been ordering direct from a family-run farm in California (Chaffin Family Orchards). Their olive oil is 100% cold pressed and extra virgin, and it’s the best olive oil I’ve ever had. We actually bought 10 gallons this year to split with family and friends. Our gallons arrive in March, so in the meantime, we use the brand pictured below, which has been reviewed as one of the best-tasting, most affordable store-bought choices (Real Simple magazine).

Butter. I’ve always been on Team Butter (heck, one my favorite books to edit was called Back to Butter—I highly recommend it). Butter, grassfed especially, is rich in vitamins A, E, and K2. It is a healthy saturated fat in moderation. I use it mostly for making eggs and for toast, of course. I like Kerrygold brand, which is grassfed and rich in both flavor and color (and those aforementioned vitamins). I also like Trader Joe’s organic butter, which is what I use in the recipe for ghee below.

Ghee. Ghee is butter that has been cooked down to remove all of its milk solids, lactose, and proteins. This process raises the overall smoke point, meaning that you can cook with ghee at a higher temperature than you can with butter, without it burning. Ghee is also easier to digest—many people with dairy allergies can even tolerate it—and it is more concentrated in nutrients than regular butter.

Ghee is a traditional cooking fat; it’s a staple of Indian cooking. We use it there, as well as for pan-frying fish and meat, and sauteing and roasting vegetables. We also eat it on its own, alongside Indian flatbreads like paratha. There’s really no place it doesn’t belong. The taste is phenomenal. Like concentrated butter with a hint of nuttiness.

I make ghee at home rather than buying it from the store because 1) it tastes even better, and 2) it’s more affordable, at about 1/3 the price of store-bought. You can use it just as you would any other oil or cooking fat. One pound of butter makes one large jar, which can be stored at room temperature for weeks or even months, though ours never really lasts that long…

Fats and Oils


Ghee
I’ve used all sorts of butter to make ghee, and both unsalted and salted varieties, but my very favorite is Trader Joe’s brand organic salted butter. It makes the most beautiful ghee (pictured above) and tastes so.damn.good. Salted butter, for me at least, seems to froth up a bit less when cooking down and I think it brings out the flavor of the ghee more. Either salted or unsalted, in any brand, will work though.

1 lb (4 sticks) butter, preferably organic and/or grassfed

Place butter in a saucepan over low to medium heat. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes, reducing the heat as needed. During this time, the butter will be simmering and bubbling gently, and may pop occasionally. It will foam up at first as well, which you can scrap off and discard, or just leave it until it cooks off.

You can tell the ghee is done in a few different ways—it will begin to smell wonderfully nutty; it will turn golden in color, with perhaps a few brown bits at the bottom; and the burbling will have quieted down to just an occasional pop/sizzle here and there. Keep in mind that you don’t want browned butter, however, so don’t let it go too far.

Let cool then strain into a jar through a very fine-mesh strainer or a larger strainer lined with a piece of cheese cloth. You don’t want any foam or other bits to get through or they will burn when you go to heat the ghee for cooking (these bits lower its smoke point), so strain carefully.

The ghee will solidify as it cools. Store in the fridge or cupboard.

Ghee 2

Perfect Hard-Boiled Eggs

Eggs and Almond Butter Toast

If you follow me on Instagram, you might notice that eggs are sort of my where’s waldo food. They appear in countless photos. I love them. A lot.

I eat one hardboiled egg as part of almost every weekday breakfast, and usually pack one to go with lunch as well, whether that’s in a big salad or alongside some cooked grains and roasted veggies. If I’m working from home, I’ll throw a fried egg on top of my rice bowl. On the weekends, we brunch on Indian-style omelets spiked with cilantro, green chilies, tomato, and red onion.

We buy our eggs from a local farmer couple named Wes & Lou. They keep two coolers full of eggs outside their house, along with whatever else they have in season, and you pay based on the honor system. Usually there’s a chicken or two clucking around you while you scrounge up your cash (free range is an understatement here).

Wes and Lou’s eggs are phenomenal. The yolks are always a rich yellow-orange hue and they taste both fresh and natural, as eggs should. Some are huge and have a double-yolk, others are small and smudged. No two are alike. That’s the beauty of it.

We buy our eggs locally for a few reasons:

  1. We think they taste better than grocery store eggs—even the “organic” ones (which can sometimes have a “fishy” taste due to the amount of omega-3s they pump into the chickens and sing about on the label). They cost less than those store-bought organic eggs, too. We pay $2.50/dozen for medium-ish eggs and $3.50/dozen for large-to-enormous ones.
  2. The hens are pasture-raised, meaning they are treated kindly, eat bugs and grass, and roam freely. All of these conditions directly factor back into reason #1.
  3. Pastured eggs are much more nutritious than typical supermarket eggs, with 4 to 6 times as much vitamin D, 1/3 less cholesterol, 1⁄4 less saturated fat, 2⁄3 more vitamin A, 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids, 3 times more vitamin E, and 7 times more beta carotene (Mother Earth News).
  4. We like to support local agriculture.

When I first started buying and hard-boiling farm-fresh eggs, I would curse at myself every.single.time I went to peel them (the fresher an egg is, the harder it can be to peel). I’d lose half the white to the shell and have tiny shell pieces everywhere.

Then I read an article on Serious Eats about an easy way to boil eggs so that they peel without a problem. Instead of putting the eggs and water in a pot and bringing it all to a boil, you first boil the water and then add the eggs. Sounds ridiculously simple, I realize, but it has been completely revolutionary for me. I’ve probably boiled at least 100 eggs like this by now, and not a single one has stuck to the shell. The yolks also stay beautifully colored, and perfectly cooked (I like them tender, not chalky).

If you know someone who has chickens, or can find a local source, I don’t think you’ll regret picking up a dozen. Boil a couple off, toss them in the fridge, and hit ’em up all week long. I’ve yet to find a meal they don’t go with.

Dozen Eggs


Perfect Hard-Boiled Eggs

However many eggs as you like
Salt & pepper

Bring water to a boil in a large pot.

Take eggs straight from the fridge and carefully lower them into the pot with a spoon, taking care not to break them.

Lower heat to a low boil (this is a 6/10 on my burner) and set your timer for 10 minutes. Adjust the heat as needed while the eggs cook—it should be at constant simmer/low boil, meaning bubbles are constantly rising to the surface, but not so aggressively that they’re knocking the eggs around.

After 10 minutes, remove eggs and place in a bowl of ice water. Allow to cool for at least 15 minutes; if you want to eat them warm, just chill for 2 to 3 minutes instead.

Store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Sprinkle with good salt (I use Himalyan pink) and freshly ground pepper.

Eggs alongside an Indian breakfast of okra and paratha (whole-wheat flatbread).

Eggs alongside an Indian breakfast of okra and paratha (whole-wheat flatbread).

No-Knead Sesame Sourdough

Sliced Sourdough

If there is one thing that you will always find stocked in our freezer, it’s bread. Right now, we’ve got a loaf of regular wheat (this King Arthur recipe is a favorite) and three kinds of sourdough: Amish rye, sandwich-style multigrain, and sesame. I also have a loaf of fruit & nut on my to-do list. We really like toast around here.

Baking bread is my yoga. It calms me, it focuses me, and it fulfills me. It’s a process that takes time, but rewards you infinitely for the commitment.

More often than not, the bread I bake is made using a sourdough starter rather than store-bought yeast. What is a sourdough starter? It’s basically just a mixture of flour + water that has sat out over time, acting like a net and collecting all the healthy microbes and yeasts from the air. It’s “wild yeast” by definition and it’s super healthy for us because it is made up of good bacteria (yes, there is such a thing), which is essential for healthy digestion as well as our health overall. You’ve heard of probiotic foods, right? Well, sourdough is one of the best.

If you are someone who would much rather just buy sourdough bread than bake it, that’s fine too! Just be sure to look at the ingredients. The label should say: “flour, water, and salt” and possibly “sourdough starter” or “natural culture” (which, again, is just flour + water but some people include it). It should not contain yeast. Most local bakeries have a true sourdough—just ask!

Here are few more facts if you’re keen to learn more:

  1. Sourdough bread is healthier than regular (yeast) bread because it is fermented. Sourdough starter helps break down the many of the nutrients found in flour that our bodies cannot access otherwise. You know those microbes I just mentioned? Well, they’re responsible for eating all of the “anti” nutrients in the flour, and their pre-digestion in turn makes your digestion of the bread a breeze—they do the work for you, quite literally (those holes you see in the crumb are, in fact, their handiwork). The longer the bread dough sits/ferments before baking, the more work they can do, and the better the final bread is for you. This is why a lot of people find true sourdough bread easier on their stomachs than any other type of bread. Many people with gluten issues can even tolerate it.
  2. Sourdough baking is the traditional way of baking bread, one humans have relied on for at least 6,000 years. Commercial yeast is a very, very new thing; sourdough bread is ancient. I like to trust our ancestors. Pretty sure they wouldn’t have spent days carefully making their breads if there wasn’t a good reason for it.
  3. Sourdough tastes better. Sourdough breads have a much deeper flavor. I know some say they don’t like the sourness, but this certainly varies by recipe, and I also truly believe it’s one of those tastes that builds on your palette over time (seriously, does anyone like coffee the first time they try it? same kind of thing). Suraj, my partner, can definitely attest to this. The first few slices he wasn’t completely sold, but he now happily eats an egg sandwich on sourdough sandwich bread almost every morning.
  4. It’s exciting! I feel so empowered when I see my dough rising and take my finished loaf out of the oven. “Look what I did! With only air!” Harnessing the natural, wild yeast in our environment to create food is just such an extraordinary, ordinary idea, isn’t it?
  5. It’s easy. I realize this sounds hard to believe, but it’s true. Sourdough requires only three ingredients: flour, water, and salt. Oh, and time. That’s it. The techniques—resting, folding, shaping, etc.—can all be adapted based on what works best for you and your schedule. It’s really hard to mess up.

“In the long slow fermentation that produces sourdough bread, important nutrients such as iron, zinc and magnesium, antioxidants, folic acid and other B vitamins become easier for our bodies to absorb. Diabetics should note that sourdough produces a lower surge in blood sugar than any other bread: in a 2008 study published in Acta Diabetologica, subjects with impaired glucose tolerance were fed either sourdough or ordinary bread: the sourdough bread produced a significantly lower glucose and insulin response. In the sourdough process, moreover, gluten is broken down and rendered virtually harmless. In one small Italian study, published in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, in January 2011, celiac patients fed sourdough bread for 60 days had no clinical complaints, and their biopsies showed no changes in the intestinal lining.” —The Guardian

I’ve maintained my sourdough starter for a few years now, which I first purchased from King Arthur (uh, can you tell I like them?). I’ve since learned I could have just as easily made one on my own (see link here), but whatever, it was $8 well spent.

If you don’t yet have a sourdough starter, I really encourage you to start or buy one (heck, I’ll even mail you some of mine). They are easy to maintain and can just be kept in a jar in the fridge when not in use. That’s where I keep mine, taking it out weekly to feed it a little more water and flour (in equal parts), discarding any extra. There have been weeks where I’ve forgotten to tend to it, and it’s been fine. I see people claim they’ve “killed” theirs, but I doubt this every time. Starters are resilient creatures. They don’t go down without a fight.

When you want to use your starter in a recipe, just take it out of the fridge and feed it every 4 hours or so, until it’s bubbling nicely and doubles in size each time you feed it—after a few feedings, it’s ready to go. I use it to make pizza dough, English muffins, pancakes, waffles, and even cake.

I have quite a few favorite sourdough loaves, but I wanted to share the easiest one with you today: a no-knead sesame sourdough. It’s the one I make when I have no time or energy, but still want to enjoy a fresh, warm loaf of bread the next night at dinner. The whole process takes about 20 hours start to finish, but only about 10 minutes of that is hands-on time. I usually mix the dough together around 9 or 10 pm, then bake it around 6 or 7 pm the next day, when I get home from work

This long fermentation/sitting time makes the final taste and texture of the loaf incredible—deeply nutty from the sesame seeds, with a soft, chewy interior and a crisp crust. Like something you’d get imagine standing in line for for hours at a trendy artisan bakery in San Francisco (not that I’ve done that or anything… ahem…). It’s also destined to be the best toast you’ve ever had; see my two favorite combos at the end of this post.

If you are still on the fence about obtaining a starter or have questions, ask away. You can also just use store-bought yeast in this recipe. It’ll still have great flavor, and about 50 ingredients less than a store-bought loaf. Whatever it takes to convince you give bread-baking a try! I promise it’s worth it.

Full Sourdough


No-Knead Sesame Sourdough
Adapted from the New York Times’ No-Knead Bread recipe. Note that weight/gram measurements are most precise, but either works. Makes 1 large loaf.

1 cup (5 oz.) white whole wheat flour
2 1/2 cups (11 oz.) white bread flour
1/3 to 1/2 cup white sesame seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
1 1/2 cups purified water
1/4 cup sourdough starter, or 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast

Dry-roast sesame seeds in a small pan over medium heat. Watch them carefully and stir frequently; it should take around 5 minutes to toast them. You want them to turn a deep golden color and smell fragrant, but don’t take your eyes off them because they can burn very easily. Let cool while you gather your other ingredients.

Combine the flours, salt, and sesame seeds in a large bowl. Mix in water and starter (or yeast) until incorporated; you don’t have to mix it a ton, just enough so that there’s no dry flour remaining. It will look pretty shaggy and messy.

Cover with plastic wrap or a lid and let sit at room temperature for 12 to 18 hours, during which it will do some fermenting and rising. If you’re not a big fan of that tangy sourdough flavor, aim for the shorter (12-hour) timeframe. I like to put my dough in a large (8-cup) Pyrex glass bowl and cover with a lid, then put it up on a shelf in my cupboard. A dark place is best. You could just cover with a towel on your counter too.

After you’ve let it sit, you should see that it’s bubbled up nicely (this is why I like using glass—helps give you a visual of what’s going on in that dough). It will be sticky and a bit wet too.

Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice (I found this video super helpful for this). Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a large bowl and let rest on the counter for about 15 minutes.

Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour or line a bowl with parchment paper (my preference) and put the dough seam side down on the towel or in the bowl. Dust the top with a little more flour. Cover and let rise for 1 1/2  to 2 hours. The dough should rise slightly (more so if using yeast)—it’ll spring up much more once it hits the heat of the oven, so don’t worry about it rising too much here.

At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart oven-safe heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex, or ceramic) in oven as it heats—as always, I use my le Creuset dutch oven.

When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is okay. (If you’re using parchment like me, you can just carefully pick up the parchment by its sides and transfer the whole shebang into the pot. The parchment will darken when baking, but it shouldn’t burn—see photo above.)

Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack. If you can wait until it’s cooled a bit to cut it, the texture will be better, but  I understand if you find that to be a ridiculous request.

Eat and rejoice.

Tahini Toast

Favorite toast #1: salted butter + bitter orange marmalade + tahini + raw honey.

Avocado Toast 2

Favorite toast #2: butter + avocado + salt.