Monday, January 18, 2021

Blog Post Redux: Make the Ghee, Buy the Paneer

I've been posting on One Hot Stove for about 16 years now. Yep, I've been blogging here practically since dinosaurs roamed the planet. I thought it might be fun to revisit some of my favorite posts from yesteryears. 

Today I am revisiting "Make the Ghee, Buy the Paneer" from March 2013. I started that post saying, "Once in a while, there comes along a book that is downright entertaining." Well, once in a while, there comes along a blog post that is downright entertaining to write, and this was one of those. 

The post centers around the question that every home cook has surely considered. In a world where anything and everything (and many things I could never have dreamed up) can be purchased in a store, should I buy or make any particular food or ingredient? In that post, I listed out things that I buy and things I make, and why. There are 99 comments on the post, counting both reader comments and my responses. Several readers chimed in with their own lists of things that they prefer to make or buy. 

In the post, I predicted, "This list has evolved since I started to cook, and will further change as I go along, I'm sure of it." What has changed for me in these 8 years? I still make all of the things that I used to make back then. But there is no denying that my life has gotten busier since that time.

It is said- Fast, Cheap, Good: Pick Two. Meaning, there are always three competing values of time, money and quality and there are compromises and trade-offs to be made. And truly, life in a nuclear family with two working parents and two young kids (not to mention a needy dog) does not lend itself to an abundance of free time. This past year has been particularly time-strapped as we are try to be playmates and companions to our kids on top of everything else. And so I prioritize getting a hot dinner on the table every evening, and make the extras that give the biggest bang for the buck (or the minute), using convenience foods to fill the gaps. 

Image: Goodreads

After I wrote that post, my dear friend Cathy gave me a cookbook that is written in a very similar vein, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making by Alana Chernila. This is a beautifully designed book and fun to read. When Chernila addresses the "why" of making foods at home in the introduction, she mentions, "Food made at home will change the way you think about food" and this is such a true and thoughtful statement. Making things at home does make you understand where food comes from and what goes into making it, at a time when we as a society seem to be consuming food products rather than eating food. 

Chernila's book is organized by supermarket aisle, and she provides a few homemade recipes for each aisle. Each recipe comes with a charming story or note, making this book more of a loose cookbook-memoir. I decided to take a tour of the supermarket with her and add my own notes.

Aisle 1: Dairy- Chernila gives recipes for making butter, buttermilk, yogurt and some cheeses like ricotta and mozzarella. 

I make- yogurt and ghee. I generally sub yogurt in recipes that call for buttermilk or sour cream. 

I buy- whole milk for the kids, non-dairy milk for the grown-ups, some cheeses as needed- cream cheese, ricotta, mozzarella, cheddar, paneer. 

Aisle 2: Cereal and snacks- The book offers recipes for granola, instant oatmeal, popcorn, cereal and granola bars, toaster pastries, potato chips, etc. 

I makegranola in large batches. My daily breakfast consists of steel-cut oats which also I make from scratch in batches in the instant pot every 4 days or so. I make snacks like cornflakes chivda, popcorn from kernels and mixed roasted nuts every now and then.  

I buy- some cold cereal to have on hand for the kids (I try to read labels and buy ones that are low sugar and high fiber that the kids will still eat.) I buy tortilla chips which we like as a topping for soups and bowls. And potato chips and other snacks are an occasional indulgence. 

I'd like to make- granola bars more often for the kids. 

Aisle 3: Canned fruits, vegetables and beans- applesauce, jam, pickles, sauerkraut, cranberry sauce, canning tomatoes and beans. 

I make- beans and lentils on a daily basis; cranberry sauce during the holidays.

I buy- cans of beans for last minute meals, Indian pickles and American pickles, cans of crushed tomatoes.

I'd like to make- refrigerator pickles. Quick pickled onions, for instance, are a lovely addition to many meals. 

Aisle 4: Condiments, spices and spreads- The book has recipes for ketchup, mustard, salsa, hot sauce, salad dressings, mayo, hummus, nut butter and a few spice mixes.

I make- salad dressings, some spice mixes like cumin-coriander powder, salsa, hummus, peanut chutney (podi).

I buy- hot sauce, nut butter, peanut butter, mayo, ketchup, mustard, some spice mixes.

I'd like to make- dips more regularly to always have on hand to accompany raw veggie sticks.

Aisle 5: Soups- Chernila gives recipes for stock, lentil soup, pureed soups etc.

I make- all kinds of lentil and vegetable soups.

I buy- jars of stock concentrate. 

Aisle 6: Baking needs and mixes- The book has recipes for pancakes, waffles, cornbread, yellow cake, frosting, pudding, vanilla extract, etc. 

I make- pancakes and waffles, cornbread, cakes, frosting, cornstarch-based vanilla and chocolate puddings.

I buy- a buttermilk protein pancake mix that my husband likes to use to make the kids pancakes on the weekends.

I have made my own vanilla extract once, years ago, by infusing vanilla beans that my boss brought back for me from Zanzibar. Except for that glorious exception, I buy vanilla extract. For the holidays, I treated myself to a big jar of vanilla paste (with the seeds in).

I'd like to make- pancake mix.

Aisle 7: Frozen foods- Chernila describes how to freeze vegetables, and gives recipes for pizza, veggie burgers, fish sticks, chicken nuggets and ice cream.

I make- extra portions of meals to freeze for later, ice cream and popsicles in summer.

I buy- frozen saag paneer boxes as emergency lunches, frozen peas, green beans, spinach, corn; some meatless frozen stuff like meatballs and nuggets. 

I'd like to make- more meals to freeze and stash away.

Aisle 8: Pasta and sauce-  The book has recipes for pasta dough, tomato sauce, pesto, mac and cheese and lasagna. 

I make- lasagna, mac and cheese, marinara sauce, enchilada sauce from dried chiles.

I buy- pesto outside of summer, bottles of pasta sauce for last minute dinners, dried pasta.

I'd like to make- gnocchi.

Aisle 9: Breads and crackers- Chernila offers recipes for burger buns, sandwich bread, tortillas, breadsticks, crackers, etc. 

I make- I rarely get around to making bread on a regular basis. It is an occasional project.

I buy- sprouted grain bread, rolls for the kids, wheat tortillas, corn tortillas.

I'd like to make- bread more regularly! 

Readers were most surprised/irked at my lack of roti-making skills in that post. For many Indian families, rotis (wheat flatbreads) are a number one staple and I did grow up eating them on a daily basis. But in my family here, we don't eat rotis on a regular basis- Indian vegetable dishes and curries in my home tend to be served with rice, or other grains, or just as a stew (think misal with toppings) or with dosa/adai

Aisle 10: Drinks- The book has recipes for lemonade, chai, herbal tea mixes, soda syrups, hot chocolate and liqueurs. 

I make- Chai, iced coffee (instant coffee frappes) in summer, hot chocolate in winter, smoothies, and the kids like to make lemonade and limeade on their own. My husband buys locally roasted coffee beans and grinds and brews his own coffee. 

I buy- loose leaf tea, herbal tea bags, instant coffee.

I'd like to make- hibiscus tea. 

Aisle 11: Candy and sweet treats- Chernila gives make-at-home recipes for supermarket favorites like Oreo cookies, Fig newtons, Twinkies, peanut butter cups and marshmallows. 

I make- date and nut treats; cookies occasionally, including almond biscotti, jam thumbprint cookies, cardamom shortbread.

I buy- pound bars of dark chocolate; cookies on occasion.

Your turn: Tell me what you buy versus what you make! 


  1. Hi Nupur, I do not make ghee - tried couple of times and failed and now don't want to try;) but I do make granola (and KAF almond cookies once in a few months). The granola is way tastier/healthier/less sweet and cheaper than store-brought, esp. since I have it for breakfast with yoghurt almost every day. I started to make yoghurt in the Instapot, when I could not justify the cartons of yoghurt, I was buying along with the plastic that it came in.
    We also make pizza at home, although with Trader Joes pizza dough, which we like a lot. I made bread once but will stick to Ezekiels sprouted bread which I have grown to like over the years (initially it tasted like cardboard - haha). I buy many of the things you buy but do not have any interest in learning to making gnocchi:)
    I’ve had hibiscus tea at a friends and loved it. I would like to learn to make that too.

    1. Anon- Exactly, since granola is consumed on a daily basis in our household it makes sense to make it at home. I used to make pizza dough at home, but we eat pizza only once a month or so, and there is a local pizza place that makes great NY style pizza so that's what we get. Like you, I have grown fond of sprouted bread :D

      Hibiscus tea is so interesting- the flowers are among my favorites but I only recently learned (also at a friend's house) about steeping dried flowers to make a drink.

  2. Hi Nupur , I did it , finally did it,and you know what I mean.. my puzzle..I was so driven that I had to complete it this weekend and we were successfully able to put the last piece in today.. I have put my puzzle pic on my blog if you like to stop by some time to check it out 😊
    I like your Aisle wise categorization . Here are my buys and makes...
    Aisle 1 dairy
    I make ghee and I buy sour cream, heavy whipping cream
    Aisle 2 cereals and snacks
    I buy cereals honey bunches of oats, lots of granola and make old fashioned oats with granola and walnuts.
    Aisle 3 beans
    I buy kidney beans and make Raina in instant pot
    Aisle 4 spices
    I buy garlic and make yummy garlic powder 😀 my favorite
    Aisle 5 soups
    I buy broccoli and sharp cheddar to make broccoli cheddar soup
    Aisle 6 baking needs
    I buy cake mixes
    I make banana bread and zucchini bread and bake cauliflower With masalas
    Aisle 7 Freezer
    I buy frozen waffles, peas, chicken nuggets for my kids
    I preserve my Garden summer harvest like green chilies and tomato Purée in the freezer for use during winter
    Aisle 8 pasta
    I make spaghetti with homemade marinara sauce and pasta with white sauce
    Aisle 9 breads
    I make zucchini bread
    Aisle 10 Drinks
    I make masala chai and hot cocoa for kids
    Aisle 11 Sweets
    I buy ice cream and make Indian sweets
    Whoa !! I think I covered all aisles .. woohoo

    1. I LOVED seeing your puzzle! Congrats on sticking thro and getting it done :D Are you going to start another one? (We are finishing up a 1000 piece Peanuts puzzle- very challenging because we're now only left with blank light blue and dark blue areas to fill).

      I loved reading your list here! That's lovely that you are able to preserve your garden harvest for winter. I've never had much luck gardening. Maybe this summer!

    2. Nupur, we might actually start another puzzle pretty soon! We will be unveiling one more puzzle for my son’s birthday. So I can’t wait to get started on that! He wanted an elephant piece puzzle so that’s what will be coming! I’ve been blogging about the harvest and it’s so fun! Maybe that could help you in your summer harvests!

  3. Loved this post! I am in aww that you make yogurt and ghee yourself. That is something I have tried and failed so many times, that I am now more than content at eating dahi from a box (I re-use the boxes in my garden to lessen the guilt of generating plastic.) For ghee we have a great source now which gets it from the women cooperatives in the villages. I love that ghee. Thankfully that ghee comes in really nice glass bottles that I end up hoarding. heh
    The staples that I have been making for a long time now and would most likely never buy are: Granola, nut butters of all kinds, trail mixes, sourdough bread (once every couple of weeks), hummus, banana bread/cakes for snacking...Basically all the snacks we consume are mostly home made. I learnt (grudgingly) how to make rotis this lockdown when we had to ask our trusty cook to take a break for covid. It is one of the most boring tasks for me and the one I enjoy the least in the kitchen but 9 months of sporadically making rotis, I can now say they are reasonably soft and edible. lol. Though we eat rice mostly to save time, since I have grown up on chapatis, I need my weekly chapati fix. I also make tomato pasta sauce when I have excess tomatoes and basil growing in the garden and freeze that. One time effort keeps paying for many meals. Same for thai green curry paste. I make in batches when herbs are growing plenty and freeze for quick weeknight meals.

    1. Neha- it sounds like you have your ghee and yogurt needs covered. Both of those are very low-effort for me, and we don't consume a whole lot of either, so it works to make at home- yogurt once a week, ghee once every couple of months.

      It is lovely that you're able to cover most of your snack needs with homemade goodies. My kids snack heavily and I am not able to keep up with the demand. This weekend I made a batch of cookies (life-changing vegan thumbprint cookies is the name of the recipe) "for the week" and the kids polished them off in 2 days.

      It is great that you are able to preserve some of your garden harvest! That's the ultimate in homesteading.

  4. I should read your original post when I can. I had to leave a comment in the middle of my work day as I think my list is identical to yours. What we make versus what we buy versus what I’d like to make. Almost all the same! - Chits (PS: I’ve been reading your blog forever now, almost since when the dinosaurs roamed the earth)

    1. Hi Chits- thank you for sticking with me all these years :) It has been fun. Same pinch on what we make versus buy!

  5. Such a coincidence nupur, I was originally reading your make and buy post. I'm very like you in the roti making department and have a cook coming in so my usual roti fixes are covered :) but I really want to learn to make parathas well for the kid's lunchbox.
    Over the last year I've become adept at making paneer from curd and eliminating the need to buy it has meant less packaging waste :) have been making ghee for a few years and ofc yogurt is a staple. I love making my own granola and often do as well and prefer making it on stovetop. Lost my mojo and have been buying it (there are a couple of brands we like) since I attempted a desi style granola with red poha, channa dal, makhana and all the nuts. While my husband and I loved the desi version my son didn't so it killed my granola mojo
    Need to get back to it!

    1. Hello :) Paneer from curd is interesting- I've only ever seen it made from milk. I guess it would have a more tangy flavor?

      Desi style granola sounds very interesting! Almost like a sweetish version of chivda/mixture? Over here I would go bankrupt if I bought granola at the rate it is consumed. I must say I spend a lot of my grocery budget on nuts as it is!

  6. Hi Nupur, hope all is well with you!!
    I went back and read your old post. I had commented on it (#63) :-)
    I think my list would still be very similar to yours. The only that has changed in all these years is that my roti making skills have improved a lot.
    I buy: pasta sauces, cheese, breads etc.
    I make: yogurt, ghee, Indian pickles (during stay at home last year), ice cream.

    1. Pavani- hello, how are you?! How fun that you made Indian pickles at home. I will have to make some as a summer project. It is fun that our lists have stayed pretty much the same over the years.

  7. This is an interesting idea to think of what we make and what we buy. For me this list could change from week to week as sometimes I make bread and sometimes I buy it, I mostly make my own soups but buy the occasional one, I mostly buy baked beans but occasionally make them - and on and on. It has changed over the years and at the moment I don't have as much time as I would like for cooking but I guess the main thing is that I like to make my own meals rather than buy pre-cooked meals. The two items on my would-like-to-make list are kombucha and home made pasta. I have heard people say you have the time or the money but I like fast, cheap, good pick two! Will have to remember it.

    1. Johanna- I know what you mean. It makes perfect sense to buy and make as time, energy and inclination allows. I too would like to make pasta, especially with the kids.

      I love fast, cheap, good- pick two! It definitely addresses the make vs. buy decisions.

  8. Nupar - how interesting! South Asian lurker here - originally from India - with grown children. I have loved and learned so much from your blog - it's like a time machine to the good old days of the internet.

    Going by aisle
    Aisle 1 dairy
    I buy cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, butter
    I'd like to make my own fresh cheese

    Aisle 2 cereals and snacks
    Not a cereal lover. I buy nuts, dried fruit, potato chips, crackers
    I'd like to make my own: rye crisp crackers, kind bars

    Aisle 3 canned food\dried
    I buy: black beans, tomatoes, coconut milk
    I make: hominy, most beans/dals, pasta sauces

    Aisle 4 spices
    I buy single spices
    I make: chili sauce, masalas

    Aisle 5 soups
    I buy: chicken broth
    I make: most other souos and stews

    Aisle 6 baking needs
    Not a baker except the odd bag of flour, sugar, yeast, chocolate chips
    I make: fruit crumbles and cobblers
    I buy: bread, pastries, cakes
    I tried making: sourdough, scones

    Aisle 7 Freezer
    I buy: peas, corn, spinach, okra, artichokes, dumplings
    I freeze: leftover entrees of meals I made, ice cream

    Aisle 8 pasta
    I make marinara sauce but will buy a spare readymade pasta sauce

    Aisle 9 breads
    I buy them

    Aisle 10 Drinks
    I buy coffee, herb teas, wine
    I'd like to: roast my own coffee beans

    1. Thanks for this great list and for playing along! I recently discovered a bread recipe that is easy enough that I have been making bread more often (for dishes like pav and misal). I do buy sliced bread though. Great that you make chili sauce too. I'd like to try that. I make kind "balls" :D that are like kind bars- just fruit and nuts and should make them more regularly.

  9. Hi Nupur, I came to your blog searching for a yogurt recipe. Although I know the basics of making yogurt, mine always comes out stringy! Any tips for this? Or perhaps a whole post on yougrt, pretty please?

    1. Hi Sangeetha- I'm replying very late to your comment. I can think of two things that might help fix your string yogurt issue. (1) When setting yogurt, you heat up heat, right, then cool it to lukewarm and add the culture? Try heating it to 180 degrees F. I use a candy thermometer to monitor this. Not heating up milk to a high enough temperature can result in stringy yogurt.
      (2) You may need a different culture. I have excellent result with Yogourmet brand cultures. I start with one packet of their culture to make a batch and from then on I use a bit of the yogurt for the next batch and so on. You can get stringy yogurt if you don't have the right mix of microorganisms.

    2. But I'll try and make a post soon!


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