Lately, I’ve been obsessed with ghee. When the late night munchies hit, I get outta bed and toast up a piece of my gluten-free bread with some ghee. I add some honey. And I take a bite of what tastes like the most decadent late-night desert, whipped up in under 3 mins. God, my ancestors are turning over in their graves with all this talk of gluten-free bread, and store bought ghee, and over processed honey…but I digress.
I’ve also been obsessed with lounge-y house music - Ash is a new favorite artist and I have his playlists on repeat. It’s the best music to have on repeat in the background as you work, paint, read, or cook. And I’ve been working a lot these days. Sometimes, to the point that I forget to eat regular meals - this is a terrible habit and I am working to change it.
Work should never come before any of our other basic needs or our need to feel good and healthy in our body.
But usually, during these busy days when I’ve been in back to back meetings and forgotten to eat, it’s when I do my best cooking, too. I am too hungry to think or to plan a recipe, so I just grab what I think would taste good and throw it together.
A few days ago, I threw together a chickpea-based meal that ROCKED MY SOCKS. I don’t follow recipes so I won’t share a traditional recipe and step by step process, but here’s a quick snapshot of how I did it:
I prepared the chickpeas with spinach, tomatoes and some of my favorite seasonings (spicy curry powder, black pepper, turmeric and salt). But the icing on top was the ghee tadka. And that’s what I’m really here to tell you about.
Ghee is clarified butter, commonly used in Pakistani cooking. Tadka (a noun and verb in Urdu) refers to both a technique and the aromatic and spicy oil infusion that results from this technique. Tadka is made by heating oil or ghee in a pan, adding dried spices (whole, crushed, or ground), other aromatics like garlic or fresh ginger, or leaves like those from a curry plant. The fat in the ghee helps release more flavor and aroma from the dried spices. Once the oil is heated up, it is added as a top layer to a finished meal.
When I prepared my tadka - as I watched the ghee melt and the whole cumin, mustard seeds, and curry leaves sizzle - I thought about generations upon generations of people who have used this ghee - the generations of women who have churned butter into ghee. This tadka. This technique to cook and add flavor. As I heard the dreamy horns and drums of the music playing in the background, all of time collapsed. Through this technique and this simple observation, I felt like I could reach back and forward through time and space, and connect with so many lineages and cultures. So much felt possible in that moment. It lit me up from inside out.
And of course, my next natural rumination was scenes from the workshops we work with. Images of diligent craftsmen, hunched over their tables, printing on textiles with blocks - as generations before them have done. And I realized the depth of what we get to create here at Istani - profound connections that go beyond our limited imagination of time and space. Every time a craftsman washes a cloth in the river or hits the textile with the woodblock, he invokes ritual, and ritual is what connects us to our ancestors. It’s what grounds us in the present and steadies us for what’s to come.
All this, from the simple rumination on ghee melting with spices. It’s quite amazing how someone can travel through time, tradition and thought by simply evoking unique flavors and aromas. How one simple train of thought can take us so far in our journey toward appreciating and understanding the value of our origins. If I could leave you with one piece of advice it would be to lose yourself. Allow yourself to take a deep dive into the little things that bring you pleasure and joy. Good food, cheerful aromas, simple rituals. Allow yourself to live through discovery. And, if I may, follow this recipe and surrender to the deliciousness of ghee.