There is only one problem with niter kibbeh: I can't stop eating it, whether I'm melting a spoonful into a pot of lentils or sneaking a dollop straight from the jar. This spiced clarified butter is the "secret ingredient" to many Ethiopian dishes, as well as anything else you can imagine using it on, from meat to eggs to vegetables. (Psst... try it on popcorn!)Niter kibbeh or nit'ir qibe is a clarified butter similar to ghee, and it's simple to make on your home stove. By separating the butterfat from the milk solids and water, what you're left with is a rich, creamy cooking fat with a higher smoke point and a longer shelf life. Seasoned with aromatics and spices, the Ethiopian version lends depth of flavor to slow-cooked stews like doro wat, braised vegetables, and sautéed meat (or even tofu!) called tibs.
Each cook has his or her own version of kibbeh, some with more ingredients than others. This recipe is based on one generously shared by my friend Ambie and her mother. Gently spiced with onions, garlic, ginger, black pepper, and turmeric, it's the perfect recipe to use as a base. You can include other spices depending on what you like and have on hand; fenugreek and cardamom are two common additions.
Ambie says that she uses the versatile butter when cooking eggs, vegetables, sauces, and more. I like using it as a shortcut to flavor for simple lentils or sautéed greens like kale, and, yes, drizzling it on popcorn. You can also brush injera flatbread with melted niter kibbeh, sprinkle it with berbere, and bake in the oven for out-of-this-world Ethiopian spiced chips.
Ethiopian Spiced Clarified Butter (Niter Kibbeh)
Makes about 1 cup
1 pound butter
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
Optional additional spices:
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds or kalonji/nigella seeds
1 cinnamon stick
Place all ingredients in a saucepan over medium-low heat. As foam rises to the top, skim it off with a spoon. If it rises too much like it is going to boil over, lower the heat.
Continue simmering gently until there is no more foam, about 30 minutes. It is done when the butter is clear on top and the solids sink to the bottom. Remove from heat.
Place a strainer over a heat-proof bowl and line it with cheesecloth or a coffee filter. Pour the butter through the strainer and discard the solids. Strain as many times as necessary to achieve a completely clear butter with no residue or spices.
Let the butter cool slightly and pour it into a jar or container. Store tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to a couple months or freeze for longer.
Related: Spice Mix: Berbere
(Images: Emily Ho)