Of PBJ substitutes, malai and khees

Today, on an impulse, I made a sandwich out of a wheat roll, lite cream cheese, ketchup and a couple of crushed Pringles. It was yum, and brought back all these memories. Back home, peanut butter was never a pantry essential. Instead, toast with butter and jam was often served as breakfast. I hated all sweet things as a child, and devised my own variation where I would slather cream on one slice of bread, and ketchup on the other. Then, something crunchy like aloo bhujia (shredded and fried potatoes) would be added in between. This was my unhealthy PBJ substitute, and it served me well for a very long time.

In the little Indian city where I grew up, cream, butter, cottage cheese, buttermilk and cooking fat were all home-made. Milk was not available in plastic cans, bottles, or even tetrapacks. Someone from the household would go to the dairy every evening, carrying one (or two) steel pails. The milk was then freshly squeezed from the cow/buffalo by the dairy guy in your pail, and you carefully carried it back home.Accepting a pail of already squeezed milk was not acceptable; you could be sure it had been adulterated with water.

Once, I followed the family retainer to the dairy. I was welcomed with open arms, then made to kneel down and the cowherd squeezed the milk directly into my mouth. It was presumably an honor; I hated it because I hated milk anyway. That ended my dairy visits. Another special treat was 'khees', or the cow's colostrum.It looked like cottage cheese in whey and was extremely delicious.The idea of drinking an animal's colostrum now seems somewhat repelling, but it was much sought after at that time.

  At home, the milk was put to boil in an evening ritual. After it cooled, the thick layer of cream (malai) that rose to the top would gently be skimmed off with a spoon. Any variations in the thickness of cream would lead to complaints to the cowherd (you're not feeding them enough!) This cream was refrigerated  and used as a substitute for butter. It was also used in various savory dishes, most famously the malai kofta. Once enough cream had collected over a week or two, it would all be put into the blender and churned to get butter. After saving a few dollops of butter, mom would then heat the rest of the butter in a kadhai ( like a heavy wok) to get ghee, or clarified butter. The ghee was used as oil in cooking, for dabbing over flatbread, and sometimes as a garnish to lentils and rice. It has its own distinctive, rich flavor; for those addicted to ghee, even butter won't do. Other byproducts were paneer, or cottage cheese made by separating milk with lime juice, and buttermilk.


Photo of ghee- via Wikimedia commons, and paneer- by Martin Barvenboer- Flickr CC

Lol..all the things a sandwich can remind you of.

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About purplesque

Psychiatrist, cook, bookworm, photographer. Not necessarily in that order.
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2 Responses to Of PBJ substitutes, malai and khees

  1. Lakshmi says:

    Mmmm…khees. I thought I was the only one who loved it. No body (not even the cowherds) know of it these days, which is probably ok, because at least the calf gets to drinking the colostrum.I DO miss khees, though.

  2. Purplesque says:

    Ah, khees..its one of those food memories that gets better with time. You can actually buy bovine colostrum as a supplement online; I bet that tastes nothing like the real thing. So glad to see there are other people who miss khees..misery loves company!

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