Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Niter Kibbeh


Take unsalted butter and melt it slowly, cook it so that the moisture in the butter evaporates — the milk solids will sink to the bottom of the pan — strain the clear liquid from the top, and you have clarified butter. Clarified butter can be used for cooking at higher temperatures than normal butter. It also keeps longer. The ghee used in Indian cuisine is a kind of clarified butter.

Ethiopia's Niter Kibbeh (Nit'ir Qibe) is a spiced clarified butter, something like India's ghee, but flavored with spices. It is used in many Ethiopian dishes, for example, Doro Wat. It is usually made in large quantities and kept on hand for daily use.


  • one pound butter (unsalted), cut into pieces
  • two cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • one small piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and chopped (about two teaspoons
  • one very small onion (a couple of tablespoons), very finely chopped
  • one-half teaspoon ground turmeric
  • one-half teaspoon ground cardamom
  • one-eighth teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • one-eighth teaspoon ground fenugreek
  • one piece of cinnamon stick (half inch)
  • one whole clove
  • If possible the turmeric, cardamom, nutmeg, and fenugreek should be fresh ground from seed, then toasted. If that is impractical, already-ground spices may be briefly toasted in a hot, dry skillet.
  • In heavy saucepan, heat the butter over moderate heat. Stir and turn the pieces so that they melt evenly. Do not allow thr melted butter to brown or bubble — lower heat if necessary.
  • As soon as all of the it is melted, increase the heat and quickly bring it to all to a bubbly butter boil. A mass of small bubble will form on the top. Stir in the "wet" ingredients: the garlic, ginger, and onion. Cook for a minute or two, then add the "dry" ingredients: the turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and fenugreek. Reduce heat to a very low simmer.
  • Simmer on a very low heat for thirty minutes to an hour. Do not stir. The milk soilds should sink to the bottom of the pan. A clear butter liquid should float on top.
  • Carefully strain the liquid through a clean cloth (cheesecloth). Repeat as necessary to obtain a liquid that is clear and free of spices and milk solids.
  • Pour the niter kebbeh into a clean jar with an airtight cover. Keep in the refrigerator and use as needed. Niter Kebbeh will turn solidi when chilled. Will keep for three months.
There are variations of the basic niter kibbeh recipe. Even if you don't have all of the spices the recipe calls for, you can make perfectly good niter kibbeh if you have most of them. Fenugreek is the most essential.

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