This last of my Middle Eastern receipts laban bil bayd calls for eggs, baked in a thickened yogurt, which is seasoned with mint and garlic cooked in ghee. This delightful dish is commonly used as part of the mezze, or the first course of appetizers.
Vegetable oils are almost 100% fat, while butter is an emulsion of 80% fat, 15% water, and 5% milk solids; vegetable fats are most commonly used for sautéing, due to their high smoke points, or temperatures at which they burn. It is misinformation that adding oil to butter raises butter’s smoke point.
The flavor of butter is important in this recipe; thus, it calls for ghee, with the smoke point of about 400 degrees F (200 C), as compared to 250 degrees F (150 C) for regular butter.
Ghee is a form of clarified butter; these two differ in that the first is heated just a little longer, browning the milk solids, thus producing a subtle nutty flavor and aroma, with great resistance to rancidity.
The most common form of clarifying butter, the one used by most restaurants, varies from the more efficient method suggested here for home use, which is actually the preparation of ghee, rather than clarified butter.
Because such large quantities of butter are clarified in commercial kitchens, it is easiest to gently heat the butter to the boiling point of water; the water then bubbles to the surface, where the foaming milk proteins form also. The water eventually evaporates, the bubbling stops, and the froth dehydrates, leaving a skin of dry whey protein; this skin of dry milk solids is next skimmed off the top. Finally, the pure butterfat is ladled out, to remove it from the dry casein particles, which have sunk to the bottom of the pan.
This technique, however, brings much wasted product when preparing small quantities, because this means of separating the fat from the top and bottom milk proteins also scoops up the butterfat. Therefore it is best to follow this quick, traditional method for making ghee, when clarifying little amounts of a pound or less of butter at home.
This takes the above process a step further, by raising the final heat and browning these sunken whey proteins, then separating them from the pure butterfat by straining. In this way, the resultant clear fat is completely isolated by easily pouring it through a coffee filter, or layers of cheesecloth.
The word ghee in Sanskrit means “bright”. In India, it was traditionally made from butter churned from soured, whole cow or buffalo milk, known as yogurt-like dahi; this preliminary souring improved both the quantity and flavor-quality found in this clarifying process. Today, Indian industrial manufacturers usually start this procedure with cream; nevertheless, it is said that sweet cream produces flat-tasting butter, which affects the character of the ghee.
Ghee is prevalent both in South Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines. My first encounters with it were in my early catering and teaching days during the 1980’s, when I was preparing East Indian foods, such as curries and dal (lentils).
Presently I like to make large batches of it, for storing in my refrigerator where it keeps for months; thus, it is readily available for frying eggs, searing meats and vegetables, making sauces-such as hollandaise-and popcorn, as well as using it as dips for lobster, crab, and artichokes. It greatly enhances the taste of all these foods.
Note: it is especially helpful to utilize high grade butter-such as Kerry butter from Ireland-in making ghee for a hollandaise sauce or dip for shell fish, as the flavor will be better. This is due to the higher butterfat content in European butters (82-86%), contrasted with 80-82% in that of its American counterpart.
Join me in the great discovery of cooking with ghee, by first making this simple, seemingly innocuous egg dish that surprises with it powerful pleasure!
Harold McGee, On Food History (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), pp. 36, 37.
Laban Bil Bayd (Lebanese eggs baked in yogurt/garlic/mint sauce) Yields 6 servings. Total prep time: 45-60 min (the length of time depends on if you prepare ghee with recipe, or have made it ahead, or have bought a ready-made version)/ active prep time: 25-40 min/ baking time: 20 min. Note: may make third of the recipe to serve two, using a 5-oz carton of plain Greek yogurt.
1/4 c ghee, or clarified butter (A prepared version is available at Trader’s, or follow step 2, to quickly make your own in 15 minutes.)
2 lg cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c fresh mint, chopped (May substitute 2 tsp dried mint.)
2 c plain Greek yogurt (Greek yogurt makes this recipe great; it is important that milk products are whole and organic for optimum health.)
1 lg egg white, beaten to froth
2 tsp corn starch
1 1/2 tsp salt (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; an inexpensive fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco.)
White pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- May use a prepared version of clarified butter (an 8-oz jar is available for $3.99 at Trader Joe’s), or make a batch of ghee by melting 1 c of high quality, unsalted butter in a small, heavy-bottom saucepan over low heat. Raise heat to medium and cook until an even layer of white whey proteins forms on top (see photo in list of ingredients).
- Continue cooking until milk solids break apart, and foam subsides, about 3 minutes, temperature will be 190 degrees (see photo above).
- Turn heat up a little, cook until second foam rises (2-3 more minutes, or until it reaches 250 degrees), and butterfat is a golden color (see photo below). This process may be easily done without using a thermometer. Ghee is finished at this point; watch carefully, as the dry casein particles-settled on bottom of pan-will brown quickly. Next, gently strain butterfat, through a coffee filter-or 6-8 layers of cheesecloth-into a heat-proof dish (see photo at very bottom). Cool and transfer to an air-tight container, keeping out all moisture; store in refrigerator; lasts for months.
Chop mint-if using fresh-and garlic.
- Measure ghee (samneh) into a small saucepan, heat on med/low, add mint and garlic, and cook until garlic is golden brown. Stir this frequently, watching carefully so as not to burn. Meanwhile proceed to next step.
- Beat egg white until frothy (see photo below); an electric mixer hastens this process.
- Place yogurt in a heavy saucepan, adding salt, cornstarch, and foamy egg white, to which a final beat is given (if making a smaller recipe of only two servings, be sure to use just one third of whites). CAREFULLY STIR IN THE SAME DIRECTION, until thoroughly combined.
Continuing to stir in the same direction, cook over medium heat until it starts to boil. Lower heat and simmer gently until thick, about 3 minutes. Greek yogurt thickens more quickly than regular yogurt; if making a smaller portion, this will thicken very fast!
- Pour hot yogurt in an oven-proof dish (or evenly divide into
individual oven-proof bowls). Spread out to completely cover the bottom of dish. Break eggs on top of this mixture, spacing them evenly if using a larger dish. Pour flavored ghee over eggs. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until eggs are hard (see photo of finished product at top of recipe). Serve immediately for an incredible palate-pleasing experience!