7 great things to do with ghee, Indian-style clarified butter

Lamb samosas from Madhur Jaffrey.

Lamb samosas from Madhur Jaffrey.

(Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

If you’ve spent any time cooking Indian food — or hanging out in Indian groceries and markets — then you’ll be familiar with ghee, the Indian style of clarified butter. Like clarified butter, ghee is butter that’s been long-simmered until the milk solids have separated, then strained.

Nutty and wonderfully aromatic, it’s used in cooking and baking as it has a much higher smoke point than regular butter. Unlike clarified butter, ghee is often cultured or flavored. Traditionally made with raw milk, ghee is also considered sacred (see: cows in India) and therapeutic in some Ayurvedic medicines.

So what to do with ghee? If you’re not well versed in Indian cuisine, you may not immediately know. You can use it as you would clarified butter, which is terrific for sauteing things, and in baking. It’s also great for brushing flatbreads and for making Paula Wolfert’s Madeleines from Dax. Or use it one of these recipes.


Lamb samosas: This recipe for ground lamb samosas, or keema samosa, is from Madhur Jaffrey, which is reason enough to make them. The ghee is in the pastry dough, which is folder over a mixture of lamb, peas, yogurt and spices and then fried. Enough said.

Rabri: An Indian-style dessert made by frying cashews and pistachios in ghee and adding it to flavored milk.

Carrot pudding: Also called gajar ka halwa, this pudding is made by simmering grated carrots in milk and ghee, then loading the mixture with nuts and spices.

Yellow lentil curry: This version of arhar ki dal is simple, inexpensive and very healthful. Cook lentils, then saute onions in ghee with cumin and chiles and add to the lentils — fragrant, colorful and kind of absurdly easy.

Shamiana lamb pullao: A Himalayan wedding dish of slow-cooked lamb sauteed in seasoned ghee with rice, this is a good weekend project even if you’re in L.A. and no one’s getting married.

Basmati pilaf: This is a far more simple dish than the lamb feast, a pilaf of onions, spices, broccoli and rice. The ghee gives the vegetarian dish even more of a rich, nutty flavor.


Spicy steamed potatoes: Fry spices in ghee, add the mixture to onions and cooked potatoes, top with a spicy yogurt mixture. Ta-da.


Total time: 40 minutes | Serves 4

1 pound small boiling potatoes
1 small onion, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 teaspoon grated ginger root
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon ghee (clarified butter) or oil
1 small cinnamon stick
3 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
2 whole cloves
1 bay leaf, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 cup yogurt
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, or 2 small chiles, seeded and sliced

1. Place the potatoes in a saucepan, cover with water and boil, covered, 5 minutes. Drain. Prick the potatoes lightly with a fine skewer.

2. Place the onion, garlic, ginger, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of water and 1 teaspoon of salt in a blender and puree.

3. Heat the ghee in a saucepan over medium-high heat and fry the cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and bay leaf for 2 minutes. Add the turmeric and stir, then add the blended mixture and fry, stirring, until the onion no longer smells raw, about 1 minute. Rinse out the blender with 2 tablespoons of water, add to the pan with the potatoes and stir well. Cover tightly, turn the heat very low and steam until the potatoes are cooked, 20 to 25 minutes.

4. Roast the cumin seeds in a dry pan over medium-high heat, stirring until dark brown, then pound until roughly crushed. Combine the yogurt with the cumin, garam masala and a dash of salt. Serve the potatoes topped with the yogurt mixture and sprinkled with cilantro or chiles.
Each serving: 150 calories; 124 mg. sodium; 12 mg. cholesterol; 4 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 26 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 2.98 grams fiber.

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