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Rancid ghee in North Africa, Middle East and India

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Rancid ghee in North Africa, Middle East and India

Jonathan Hayes | Feb 23, 1999 05:41 AM

Greetings, Chowhounds! I'm a restaurant critic, food
writer and, most of all, committed chowhound.

This weekend, I was a cohost of an Asian fusion dinner
at which Jim was a guest. One of the dishes I'd cooked
was an Indian dessert named *gajjar ka halwa*, a rich
carrot pudding with raisins and cashews. The dish is
usually referred to as "carrot halva", but that term is
a bit confusing, as it has associations with the Middle
Eastern confection (which I absolutely hate).

I mentioned that the first step in cooking gajjar ka
halwa, is a fairly global technique - the sauteeing of
aromatic elements in fat. Here, the recipe started with
the sauteeing of raisins which had been plumped in water
in ghee, the nutty clarified butter which is the main
cooking fat of India. When the ghee was perfumed, the
raisins were removed and the carrots added and cooked
down.

This triggered a discussion which I found intriguing,
with one of my interlocutors stating that frequently
recipes from India, the Middle East and North Africa
call specifically for rancid ghee.

While I don't doubt that the difficulties of keeping
butter fresh in these hot climates means that cooks
occasionally use rancid fat, I thought that this was
unlikely. Rancid fats are different from cultured food
products like yogurt, creme fraiche and wine.

However, a friend points out that rancid ghee is used to
flavour tea in the Himalayas, where cool air and snow
mean that preservation of butter is an option.

Does anyone have any insight into this issue? Did
anyone's mother or father keep a pot of rancid cooking
oil tucked away somewhere for making special, authentic
recipes from these parts of the world?

What say you, Chowhounds?

Thanks in advance,

Jonathan

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