Niter Kibbeh, the Ethiopian Spiced Butter, (Tegelese Tesmi) in Eritrean, has, over the years, become an indispensable ingredient in my kitchen, just as it is in much of East Africa. It has an incredible depth of flavour that imparts an almost mysterious bouquet to anything you cook it with.
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Cooking in an Ethiopian Kitchen
I mentioned in the Injera (Ethiopian Flat Bread) post from years ago, that what little I know of East African cooking was brought about by some friends who ran an Ethiopian kitchen.
One of my responsibilities, when Samiah went on maternity leave, was to make this Niter Kibbeh in their restaurant kitchen. And I had to shampoo my hair everytime before going in to the office the next day, as I’d smell of clarified butter! Not a bad thing when you’re making it, but the next day … not so much!
This Ethiopian Spiced Butter is an essential ingredient in many Ethiopian, Eritrean and Somalian dishes. The most popular of these is Doro Wot, as popularised by Marcus Samuelsson in the Western world.
But today, is all about Niter or Nit’r Kibbeh, or Tegelese Tesmi, a butter by any other name. Clarified butter is a very simple process that can be done at home in 30 – 45 minutes, and enjoyed for months after. The spices and aromatics aside, I make it in exactly the same way that I make ghee, the Indian clarified butter, which contains no spices at all.
How do you make Ethiopian Clarified Butter?
Clarified butter is pure butter fat, and we achieve this by cooking off all the milk proteins and water in our butter. In Niter Kibbeh, the spices and aromatics give the clarified butter some character. These added ingredients are called Manteria. It comes form the word manter, which means to clarify. Some people also call this mix of spices and aromatics ye’kibbeh qemam, or kibbeh spice.
Best Butter for Niter Kibbeh
Unsalted butter is best, as it results in less foaming. Our method is fairly simple, it doesn’t involve much skimming off as you would find with some. We leave the butter to its own devices for a good 20 minutes, then maybe skim once or twice and finally strain, voilà, you’ve got yourself an Ethiopian Spiced Clarified Butter.
As far as the spices and aromatics are concerned, you can go simple, or you can go complicated; it’s a matter of taste. I tend to be on the conservative side, but you’ll see that and suggestions for additional spices, in the recipe card below. I have found though, that it’s best not to add powdered ingredients, as they tend to burn quicker and lend a bitter taste to the butter.
How long to cook the Butter to make Clarified Butter?
20 minutes will give you the light golden colour that you see here, synonymous with clarified butter. I often go just 10 – 15 minutes longer, giving me a darker Niter Kibbeh, as seen in the image above.
Why? Because that little bit of extra time gives me a much deeper flavour and aroma. Your spiced clarified butter will be toasty, nutty and with a hint of caramel – absolutely deadly in the kitchen! In a good way, of course! Well, not if you’re on a diet. Then it’s definitely deadly in the other sense of the word!
How to Use Niter Kibbeh?
- As mentioned above, in Doro Wot, that most wonderful of chicken stews.
- I also use it in Middle Eastern and Indian/Pakistani recipes, in place of butter and regular clarified butter. It adds a wonderful depth and aroma to rice dishes, like pilau and bryanis and also to curries and stews.
By Products of making Niter Kibbeh
The by products of making this spiced clarified butter are absolutely delicious. Not the healthiest things of course, but still super delicious!
- The first thing is the cooked aromatics: the onion, garlic and ginger. I love to stir these into rice or even add them to salads for a flavour kick.
- Next, is the milk proteins that sink to the bottom of the pan, and are practically burnt looking. I cook rice in the same pan, again for a hint of flavour and aroma.
So there you have it, folks, a super easy, super Ethiopian spice butter that will live in your fridge
happily ever after for a good 3 months. Experiment with it to your heart’s delight! Perhaps something for this weekend?
How to make Ethiopian Clarified Butter in Pictures
Ethiopian Recipes on LinsFood
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Ethiopian Spiced Clarified Butter (Tegelese Tesmi)
- 500 g unsalted butter
- 1 medium onion quartered or sliced in rings
- 2 medium garlic cloves left whole
- 2.5 cm large piece ginger peeled and sliced into 3 pieces
- 10 black peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- other herbs like oregano basil, thyme, etc
- If the butter is cold, cut it into large cubes. Place the butter in a medium heavy based saucepan.
- Add all the other ingredients and heat on medium-low heat to melt the butter. This will take about 5 minutes.
- When the butter has melted, lower the heat down to low and continue cooking. You’ll immediately start seeing a thin white layer forming on the surface. These are the milk solids. They will start to foam but shouldn’t boil over at the low heat. The foam will then break up into little clusters and continue to dissipate as the water cooks off. This will be around the 15 minute mark, give or take.
- At around the 20 minute mark, the bubbling would have calmed down considerably, and this tells us that the water has all gone. Because we have “impurities” in the butter, in the form of our onions, etc, the bubbling won’t altogether cease. Using a fork, take out the onions, garlic, ginger and bay leaf and leave them aside to use as topping on some other recipe. Leave the peppercorns.
- If you are aiming for a rich golden colour, it’s time to stop. You shouldn’t have much foam at the surface, but if you do, skim it off but don’t worry too much about it, as we will be straining it. If you fancy a darker colour and flavour, leave it cooking for another 10 – 20 minutes. The longer you leave it, the darker the colour. Keep an eye on it, as around the 45 minute mark, you’ll be burning the fat. And we don’t want that, as it will be bitter.
- Triple line your strainer with a cheesecloth or muslin and place it over a glass bowl.
- Pour the clarified butter in to strain. Repeat for a clearer looking product, you can use the same cheesecloth.
- Store it in a sterilized jar, cool to room temperature and store in the fridge. Will keep for 3 months in the fridge. It will harden in the fridge.