Making Ethiopia’s clarified butter, Niter Kibbeh
Making the slow cooked Ethiopian special stew Doro Wat requires the use of Ethiopia’s Niter Kibbeh (Nit’ir Qibe) also called tesmi (in Tigrinya), which is a spiced laden clarified butter similar to India’s ghee. Ethiopian households will typically have Niter Kibbeh, perhaps made in large quantities and stored for later use as one of the most essential ingredients for Ethiopian cooking.
Niter Kibbeh is rather like the foundation of a mansion. Without it the end product stands the risk of crumbling into nothingness. The aromatics and spices infused in Niter kibbeh gives that most incredible of flavour foundations and bases to Ethiopian cooking. That foundation of course calls for a certain skill and know how to get it right especially if your dish will take longer to cook at higher temperatures. Regular butter would normally burn if cooked longer and at higher temperatures. Niter Kibbeh on the other hand, is slow cooked and as with clarifying butter in general the milk solids which is what causes butter to burn are removed in the process of coking.
The recipe below is traditional. Cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, black cardamon, cloves, garlic, nutmeg, fenugreek seeds, onions, ground peppercorns and cumin seeds are the spices used. Perhaps the star of Niter Kibbeh is the butter itself. Use unsalted good quality butter. Apart from Ethiopian dishes, Niter Kibbeh is versatile and can be used as a base for non-Ethiopian dishes especially where the depth of butter flavour is preferred to cooking oil.