Hold the ghee?
July 13, 2010 10:09 AM   Subscribe

How big of a deal is it to ask Indian restaurants to leave out the ghee?

I mean, is it already all mixed in, or can they just leave it out, no sweat?
posted by cgs to Food & Drink (19 answers total)
It would be similar to asking any other restaurant to leave out butter, which is to say non-trivial.
posted by odinsdream at 10:12 AM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I grew up eating Indian food and every Indian recipe my mom taught me calls for ghee at some step in the process. I think you'd be playing with fire on this one based on what a common ingredient it is.
posted by greekphilosophy at 10:14 AM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Not only that, but they're just as likely to ignore the request and say they did it. In eating out at local restauraunts with a person with food sensitivities we've found several places that claimed they left the ingredients out, only to have swelling problems soon after eating. It's the wonderful world of food service; the quality and integrity varies across the board.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 10:20 AM on July 13, 2010

There are two kinds of ghee. One is made from milk, and is the real stuff. There is a cheaper variety made from vegetable oil (sometimes called vanaspati). If the problem is dairy, maybe you could explain that and ask which kind they use.
posted by QIbHom at 10:22 AM on July 13, 2010

Two things:

1. Most Indian restaurants do not make curries to order; they've already been cooked. They can make it spicier by adding red chilli powder before your order goes out.

2. Ghee usually goes into the dish very early on so it would be impossible to undo.

So, no. I do agree than Indian food from restaurants tends to be overly greasy.
posted by special-k at 10:27 AM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Because the sauces that many items include are already made because of their time-intensiveness, a great number of things with gravies are going to be off the table. You might do okay with pakoras, kabobs, and certain meat dishes. If your concern is lactose intolerance (as I see you've tagged this), ghee is butter with the milk solids removed, and is probably even less likely to be a problem than butter itself. What might be a problem are the many dishes that include milk or cream in significant amounts. I'm lactose intolerant - can't handle milk or more than a very small amount of ice cream without pain/distress - but I regularly consume ghee and yogurt with no problem.
posted by jocelmeow at 10:34 AM on July 13, 2010

In my (very limited) understanding of Indian cooking, ghee gets used in the very first step of many recipes, for frying/sauteeing spices and onions in. That means that ghee is going to be a very basic ingredient in almost every sauce-based dish you order. It wouldn't be at all like asking them to hold the parsley garnish at the end.

A better approach might be to ask the server whether they offer anything that's already made without ghee. I wonder whether un-saucy, roasted/grilled dishes, like tandoori chicken, might fit this bill?
posted by Bardolph at 10:34 AM on July 13, 2010

I see from your tags that lactose intolerance is a concern. As ghee is butter from which milk solids have been removed, "There might be minute amounts of lactose in ghee but it is unlikely to be enough to have an effect on those who are lactose intolerant."
posted by needled at 10:36 AM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

What exactly is the issue in question?

Ghee is clarified butter with the milk solids removed/cooked out, so it does not contain (enough) lactose to be an issue for someone with lactose intolerance.

It's an extremely high quality cooking oil that is unlikely to go rancid quickly.

It is very healthy, as oils go.

Most food from any restaurant from any cuisine is going to be loaded up with oil, salt, and other things that aren't generally very good for you - that's why restaurant food tastes better than homecooked food. If you are looking for a healthier option, you should cook food at home, always, regardless of cuisine.

If you are a vegan, you should probably not be eating Indian food you don't cook yourself, as it is generally full of dairy products (in more ways than just ghee).

As a side note, a close friend of mine who is Indian uses vegetable oil in his Indian cooking instead of ghee. I can't tell the difference, taste-wise. I would imagine that many restaurants do the same, because in the US ghee is difficult to obtain in mass quantities and rather expensive. So it's possible that the restaurant in question isn't even using ghee and that's not the source of your troubles at all (probably the other 10 dairy products they finished the dish with).
posted by Sara C. at 10:37 AM on July 13, 2010

Around the Bay Area, at least, there are a bunch of Indian restaurants that use olive oil instead of ghee. So for some restaurants, you wouldn't even have to ask. Or, what Sara C. said.
posted by Zed at 10:49 AM on July 13, 2010

wow... thanks for all the replies! my wife is lactose intolerant but we love indian food. just trying to find a way to keep the saag flowing...
posted by cgs at 11:19 AM on July 13, 2010

I'm lactose intolerant, and love Indian food, so I just take a couple of Lactaid pills and that helps. I think it's a bigger hassle to make special requests than to just take the pills.
posted by bolognius maximus at 12:36 PM on July 13, 2010

I'm lactose intolerant and as far as I can tell I've never had a reaction from cooking with regular butter, so it seems to me clarified butter would be fine.
posted by dnash at 12:37 PM on July 13, 2010

I'm also lactose intolerant, and though I know full well that butter (and cheese, and yogurt, and half and half, for that matter) only contains a trace of lactose if any. That said, for some reason I have, er, gastric issues whenever I eat Indian food. But I LOVE Indian food. So, I've learned to stick with only a couple of dishes: chicken tikka (not chicken tikka masala), tandoori chicken, and samosas are usually safe for me.

It makes going for Indian with a dining companion rather limited for them, but maybe this is something that may work for you and your wife.
posted by chez shoes at 12:39 PM on July 13, 2010

Chez Shoes, your problem is likely dairy based sauces. I've especially noticed that menu items that are stressed to be "mild" or "not spicy" tend to be very buttery cream-based curries. So if you usually avoid spicy foods and are lactose intolerant, that is probably your problem. Dishes with paneer will probably also bug you, as paneer is a fresh cheese which will certainly still have lactose in it.

Do you eat cream sauces from other cuisines?

Also, not to be rude, but I find that a lot of people have really irrational attitudes about how Indian always makes them sick or gives them indigestion. Eat what you want, obviously, but it's impossible for an entire national cuisine to make a person physically ill, while other cultures' foods are perfectly fine. Your stomach doesn't know whether the curry you just ate was Indian or Thai, or for that matter whether it was curry or pasta sauce.
posted by Sara C. at 12:49 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would agree with most of the above comments- I'm normally fine with most Indian food (nearly all of which contains ghee), and even things like palak paneer, which is full of cheese. For a while I wondered why dishes like butter chicken, chicken tikka masala, or other Mughal dishes would go right through me. Then I realized- they're often made with heavy cream, usually added near the end of the cooking process.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:57 PM on July 13, 2010

I am violently, horribly lactose intolerant (I can't even take medication that uses trace amounts of lactose as an inert filler) and properly prepared ghee has given me less trouble than the tablespoon of milk I put in my tea. It helps if the butter is european-style fermented butter, too.
posted by elizardbits at 1:47 PM on July 13, 2010

If your wife is lactose intolerant and Indian food is bothering her, it may not be the ghee. I've found that a few Indian sauces actually have heavy cream in them. Maybe you can ask them to point those out to you so they can be avoided.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 2:39 PM on July 13, 2010

just trying to find a way to keep the saag flowing...

The culprit here is the cream, not the ghee. You'll need to ask if there's any cream or yoghurt involved in the dishes.

Popular north indian dishes that are likely to contain cream/yoghurt:

Butter chicken
sometimes saag
Dal makhni (spelling varies on the "makhni")
Tikka masala
Malai Kofta (malai anything, really)
sometimes jalfreezi.

There could very well be a few more. Rest assured, you can still have your indian, but you're gonna have to check.
posted by smoke at 4:31 PM on July 13, 2010

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