Ethiopian Spiced Clarified Butter (Niter Kibbeh)

Spiced Clarified Butter
Fragrant and flavorful thanks to the addition of more than half a dozen spices, this clarified butter is a key building block in many Ethiopian dishes.©Peter Cassidy, courtesy of Interlink Books

When butter is clarified—cooked until the water has evaporated and the milk solids have separated­—it becomes a brilliant yellow oil that can be stored for 2 months without spoiling. Ethiopian cooks simmer a range of fragrant spices, onions, or garlic into their clarified butter before filtering it and using the clear liquid in various dishes. In his recipe, chef Yohanis uses dried lemon thyme and dried basobela, an Ethiopian basil similar to Thai basil, but regular dried thyme and basil can be substituted. Use niter kibbeh to make Slow-Cooked Spicy Chicken with Hard-Boiled Eggs (Doro Wat), Sizzling Spiced Beef (Siga Tibs), Beef Tartare (Kitfo), and more.

Adapted from Ethiopia: Recipes and Traditions from the Horn of Africa (2019) by Yohanis Gebreyesus with Jeff Koehler. Published by Interlink Books.

What You Will Need

Spiced Clarified Butter (Niter Kibbeh)
When butter is clarified—cooked until the water has evaporated and the milk solids have separated­—it becomes a brilliant yellow oil that can be stored for 2 months without spoiling. Ethiopian cooks simmer a range of fragrant spices, onions, or garlic into their clarified butter before filtering it and using the clear liquid in various dishes. In his recipe, chef Yohanis uses dried lemon thyme and dried basobela, an Ethiopian basil similar to Thai basil. But regular dried thyme and basil can be substituted.
Yield: makes About 1 cup
Time: 25 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. (2 cups or 4 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 4 cardamom pods, lightly smashed
  • 1 tsp. coriander seeds, coarsely crushed
  • 1 tsp. fenugreek seeds, coarsely crushed
  • 1 tsp. long pepper, coarsely crushed
  • 1 tsp. nigella seed
  • ½ tsp. grains of paradise, coarsely crushed
  • 1 tsp. dried basil
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme

Instructions

  1. In a small, heavy-bottomed pot over low heat, melt the butter. Using a spoon, skim away any foam that forms on the surface, and discard. Once the solid milky residue has sunk to the bottom of the pot, pour the clear liquid into a clean saucepan, leaving the solids behind in the first pot.
  2. To the clarified butter, add the cardamom, coriander, fenugreek, long pepper, nigella, and grains of paradise. Set the mixture back on the stove over very low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the dried basil and thyme, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the butter is very fragrant but the herbs and spices are not burned, about 10 minutes more.
  3. Line a strainer with a few layers of cheesecloth and set it over a clean, heat-proof container. Strain the butter, discarding any solids. Let cool completely at room temperature, then use immediately or refrigerate, tightly covered, for up to 2 months.