One ingredient you will find mentioned in many recipes for authentic Ethiopian food is niter kibbeh, or clarified spiced butter. In general, niter kibbeh as part of the fat in meat dishes, and oil is used in vegetarian dishes. (Yes, Ethiopian dishes all seem to require a lot of fat!)
Since I have not gotten into the habit of keeping niter kibbeh on hand, I usually use oil along with a tablespoon or two of butter in most of my meat dishes. But here is a recipe that I used last time I got inspired to make actual niter kibbeh. This recipe will keep for months in the refrigerator, covered.
- 1 lb. butter, cut into pieces
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 tsp. fresh ginger
- 1 small onion, very finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
- 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp ground fenugreek
- 1 piece of cinnamon stick (half inch)
- 1 whole clove
- Niter Kibbeh is most authentic if the turmeric, cardamom, nutmeg, and fenugreek is fresh ground from seed, then toasted. Or you can toast already-ground spices in a hot, dry skillet for a minute or two.
- In heavy saucepan, heat butter over moderate heat. Melt but do not let the butter brown or bubble.
- Once all butter is melted, turn up the heat and bring to boil. Add the minced garlic, ginger, and onion. Cook for a minute or two, then add remaining ingredients.
- Simmer on a very low heat for 30-60 minutes. 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)so that it is clear and free of spices. Pour the niter kibbeh into a clean jar with an airtight cover. Keep in the refrigerator and use as needed for up to three months. It is normal for it to turn solid when chilled.
Note: If you don’t have all these spices, you can still make good niter kibbeh. However, fenugreek is the most distinctive and some say most important part of making niter kibbeh.