Asparagus (with leftover milk solids from ghee)

sautéed asparagus with ghee

Not knowing any better, I loved canned asparagus in my youth, as canned vegetables dominated America in the mid-twentieth century.  At that time in my life, I was also enamored with Campbell’s tomato soup, when made with milk instead of water.  These foods spelled enchantment to my young, untutored palette.  Time provided exposure to more excellent options; I no longer like canned asparagus or Campbell’s soup.  Over the years, my taste buds have been disciplined to know the best; thus, I have acquired wisdom, which I humbly share with you.

With its 1795 beginnings, canning drastically reformed the world of nutrition, which started with a French confectioner’s inspiration.  This radical change in the culinary world came at a time that government saw upheaval as well, for the French revolutionaries were revolting against monarchies in Europe (for the history of canning refer to Bean, Corn, and Avocado Salad, 2017/10/02).

Originally, this manufacturing process provided armies with needed preservation of foods, but later its prevailing use distracted the American public, taking them away from healthier, tastier, fresh ailments; this occurred likewise in other cultures.  Canned goods monopolized the cooking of the common man; thus, the preparation of fresh fruits and vegetables was lost for a period.  Even canned meats were favored: Spam was popular in the U.S., while bully beef-minced corned beef in small amounts of gelatin-dominated the United Kingdom and mainland Europe.

Campbell’s is the best known name in the global soup-making industry.  In 1869, Philadelphia, fruit-wholesaler Joseph Campbell partnered with tinsmith-icebox-maker Abram Anderson to open Campbell Soup Company in Camden, N.J.; initially they packed fancy asparagus, small peas, tomatoes, minced meat, condiments, jellies, etc.

The year following its new 1896 partnership, the president of Joseph Campbell Preserve Company hired his 24-year old nephew John T. Dorrance, a brilliant research chemist.  This master of organic chemistry had received a doctorate from the University of Gootingen, having turned down faculty positions at this illustrious school, as well as at Columbia, Cornell, and Bryn Mawr.  Young Dorrance applied his ingenuity to his passionate vision for canned soups, for which he had learned the proper seasoning while working at famous Parisian restaurants.  With his vision of a double-strength “condensed” product, this youthful genius gave America its famous Campbell’s tomato soup.

My vivid, introduction to cooked, fresh spinach is sealed in my brain; it took place at my friend Dulcy’s home in Cut Bank, Montana in 1974.  This steamed dish, which her mother had adorned with hot butter and fresh-squeezed lemon, ignited a holy fire in me.  Exuberantly I tried to convince my mom to repeat this, but she refused, professing her hatred for spinach.  I now understand that her reaction came from an impression left by the nasty canned version, which so colored her sensory perception that she totally blocked out the heaven-sent fresh variety.

Both our palates and souls are thus influenced, absorbing either good or bad information, until we exercise our God-given authority over these perceptions.  Throughout our lifetime, events leave subtle marks on us in either adverse or positive ways, hence imbuing our imaginations with emotion, and consequently dictating our choices often.  We, however, can overcome our inhibitions by purposing to resist these impulses, repeatedly speaking words of life over our circumstances.  In this way, we mold new pathways in our brains.  This is true with all soulish imprints, both those brought by unpalatable foods as well as emotional wounds.  May we stand boldly, mastering all such patterns that limit us.

Here fresh asparagus is the piece de resistance, with which I employ the leftover remains of browned casein residue from simple ghee preparation (see Laban Bil Bayd, 2018/03/26, for easy instructions).  The flavor in butter is most highly concentrated in those milk proteins; therefore, when these are separated in the clarifying process, the very strength of its taste is isolated; browning intensifies this even further.  If you have never experienced a food enhanced with these nutty milk solids, be prepared for copious, mouth-watering sensations.

References:

James Trager, The Food Chronology (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1995), pp. 283, 345, 354.

http://www.qdg.org.uk/pages/1793-to-1802-103.php

http://www.referenceforbusiness.com/history/Ca-Ch/Campbell-Soup-Company.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bully_beef

https://www.taste.com.au/articles/bully-beef-part-of-australian-history/KYnke1FI

http://jamaicans.com/bullyb/

leftover milk solids from ghee preparation

Asparagus (with leftover milk solids from ghee)  Yields: 2-3 servings.  Total prep time: 15 min, when ghee is prepared ahead, which takes an additional 15 min.

1 lb fresh asparagus, or vegetable of your choice

1 1/2 tbsp of ghee  (See simple instructions at Laban Bil Bayd, 2018/03/26.)

Browned milk solids  (See these, leftover from ghee preparation, in saucepan in above photo.)

Salt, to taste  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for health; an inexpensive fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco.)

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

  1. cutting asparagus

    Spray asparagus with a safe, effective, inexpensive vegetable spray (combine 97% distilled white vinegar with 3% hydrogen peroxide); let sit for 3 minutes; rinse well.

  2. Dry spears with a towel.  Cut in bite-size pieces, first removing tough ends (see photo).
  3. preparing ghee for sauteing

    Melt ghee in frying pan, saving separated milk solids for finishing touch (see photo); test for readiness by placing a piece of asparagus in pan; when it sizzles, it is time to proceed.

  4. Add vegetable and sauté until desired doneness; do not overcook.
  5. Stir in browned milk solids; salt generously (see photo at top of recipe).  Be enraptured by this heavenly treat!

Laban Bil Bayd (Lebanese eggs baked in yogurt/garlic/mint sauce)

laban bil bayd and tabbouleh

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-temperatures at which they burn.  It is misinformation that adding oil to butter raises the latter’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.  Because such large quantities 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, 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, 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 helpful to utilize high grade butter-such as a European-especially in using ghee for a hollandaise sauce, as the flavor will be better.  This is due to the higher butterfat content in this European product (82-86%), contrasted with 80-82% in that of its American counterpart.  (But I find the Trader Joe’s brand of unsalted butter is adequate, with its good quality, for most of my needs; all their dairy products are hormone and additive free.)

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!

References:

Harold McGee, On Food History (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), pp. 36, 37.

https://www.seriouseats.com/2015/08/how-to-clarify-butter.html

https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2015/08/clarified-butter-recipe.html

https://altonbrown.com/clarified-butter-and-ghee-recipes/

finished product

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, make ahead, or buy 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

initial foaming of butter

1/4 c fresh mint, chopped  (May substitute 2 tsp dried mint.)

2 c plain Greek yogurt  (Greek yogurt makes this recipe; 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 health; an inexpensive Himalayan salt is available in bulk at our local Winco.)

White pepper, to taste

6 eggs

  1. foam subsides, just before raising heat

    Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

  2. 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-or two-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.  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.
  3. ghee finished, as it foams a second time

    Chop garlic and mint, if using fresh.

  4. 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.
  5. Beat egg white until frothy (see photo below); an electric mixer hastens this process.
  6. 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, be sure to use correct proportion of whites).  CAREFULLY STIR IN THE SAME DIRECTION, until thoroughly combined.
  7. egg whites beaten to froth

    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!

  8. Pour hot yogurt in an oven-proof dish (or evenly divide into

    separating milk solids from ghee through a coffee filter

    individual oven-proof bowls); spread out to completely cover the bottom; break eggs on top of this mixture, spacing them evenly in 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!