Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
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.
Table of contents
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.
30 thoughts on “Niter Kibbeh, Ethiopian Spiced Clarified Butter (Tegelese Tesmi)”
Hello – As you made this for an Ethiopian restaurant, I’m guessing you used some of the traditional spices – kosseret, maybe besobela, abish….I can’t imagine kibbe without kosseret. Can you give a version using the authentic spices too? I assume you left them out as hard to find, but more and more of us are buying them online and the recipes I’ve found so far just don’t come out with a balanced flavor. (I’ve been to Ethiopia and remember the taste and smell – would love to recreate it!) Thank you!
Hi Lynne, yes, you are right, on both counts. I wanted to make it doable. Many of my “exotic” recipes from Asia and the Middle East insist on all the ingredients because they can be bought online. But I remember that at the time of writing this article some 4-5 years ago, Ethiopian ingredients were still very hard to come by even here in the UK (we have access to so many difficult-to-find ingredients). So I decided to leave them out.
But things have progressed since the Lockdown, interestingly.
When I have the time, I’ll edit the post with what I use, but in the meantime, for the recipe here (500 g butter):
1/2 Tbsp koseret
1 tsp besebola (or holy basil/tulsi when I can’t get besobela)
1 long pepper
pinch of Ethiopian thyme
pinch nigella seeds
pinch ajwain seeds
1 small cinnamon stick – this was only sometimes added in the restaurant. It’s a matter of preference.
I make kibe varyingly, in terms of the spices and aromatics used. Sometimes, I omit, the onion, garlic and ginger altogether.
If you want to get an even more authentic result, mix your room temperature butter, with all the herbs and spices, and leave for 2 days, for the flavours to permeate the butter. Then go on with the recipe.
I hope this helps.
Thank you Pierre, pleased you think so.
The clearest most complete and informative article and recipe that I’ve read in over 40years.
Hi Lynn, thank you so much for those kind words. It has always been my aim to inform and educate my students and readers, not just give them a recipe. x
I made this today and the house smells wonderful from it. Going to make your doro wot tomorrow with it. I also followed your suggestion and added the onion, etc to our rice today, along with a bit of this. Everything is so good! Thank you! So excited about the doro wot!
Hi Katherine, I’m so pleased to hear that! I just love those leftover aromatics. Let me know how the wot goes tomorrow!
Hi Azlin, have a prep question on your clarafied butter. Im guessing I peel the ginger but aside from that do I leave it whole or chop? Also how much should I add of the optional ingredients?
Hi William, I’ll amend that oversight on the ginger. Peel and slice into 2-3 slices.
Cinnamon a medium sized stick, add with the onion, etc.
Cardamon – 4
Cloves – 3
Cumin – 1/2 tsp seeds
Turmeric – about 1″ (2.5cm), scrubbed or peeled, and sliced into 2-3 slices. If using powdered turmeric, 1/4 tsp, AFTER the stove has been turned off. Stir and follow the rest of the recipe. This goes with any other spices you might be using in ground/powdered form.
Herbs – if fresh, about 2-3 sprigs. If dried, 1/4 tsp, added a minute before the end.
I hope that helps.
Very, very good post, Chef Azlin. I am very impressed with your knowledge and your love for what you do. I can read it in your words.
Thank you so much. I appreciate that. x
Wow, this is such an amazing recipe, I can just imagine the flavour and the smell as you describe it! Thank you, I will have a go at this!
Thanks Samantha, let me know how it goes.
Yum, I can bet this adds the best flavor to so many dishes. Clarified butter has always been on my list of things to try out at home, but for some reason I have never gotten around to it. You have inspired me and I will be trying this out this week
I love you site, you are all about different cuisines from around the world and this particular “brown butter” with a touch of ginger, onion and garlic bring a basic butter to another level! I’ll give it a try in my next curry dish!
Hello Azlin, what an interesting recipe! I am an Indian living in the US and regularly make ghee for home use as I can’t find anything good near me. I like the sound of this recipe.
Question: Should I add all the “optional ingredients” or only one or two? I know it sounds silly but I was wondering if I put in lots, whether I’ll have a stronger and better clarified butter in terms of flavor.
And you say I can use this for pulaos and biryanis?
Thank you in advance.
Hi Sumathi, thanks for your comment. I wouldn’t use all the ingredients all at once, it will be a hodge podge of flavours and aroma if you do. I’d start out with adding jut 2 or 3 more, and chop and change everytime. But the onion, garlic and ginger, are a must everytime in my opinion. And yes, you can absolutely use this for pilau and bryani.
Hello Azlin! My first time on your website. I saw this recipe on Twitter and had to see it because I am Ethiopian. I want to congratulate you on a job well done. My mother was the same, she didn’t like to flavour her Nit’r Kibbeh too much, like you she only added a few spices. I have just signed up to receive your posts!
Hi Dinha, thank you so much! Both for your kind words and taking the time to leave a comment. And of course, for subscribing too! Stay in touch!
This looks totally wonderful! I am going to attempt this soon, and look forward to your Doro Wot recipe using it too!
this is so cool, didn’t know how easy it was to make! Thanks for sharing this interesting recipe. I love using clarified butter in my recipes as it won’t burn.
What a great recipe! I have never heard of adding spices to clarified butter. Can’t wait to try this!
What an amazing recipe, I’ve never heard of this but am so intrigued. And it doesn’t take long, so I might attempt it this weekend. Never made clarified butter before, should be fun! Thank you, Azlin!
It’s a pleasure, Djamila. Let me know how it goes and what you intend to use it for. I should have the Doro Wat recipe up sometime this week.
I did it yesterday! And I went for the longer cooking time as you suggested, so mine is brown just like yours. The smell and the flavour is just amazing. Made some pilau rice for dinner and used this niter kibbeh instead of ghee and everybody loves it so much, they want it again today! Thank you, Azlin, and I will wait for the Doro Wot!