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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Ethiopian Spiced Butter - Niter Kibbeh

Another backbone of Ethiopian cuisine is a spiced butter called Niter Kibbeh (or qibe). Who knew it was possible to make butter even more delicious?? It's essentially clarified butter (called "ghee" in Indian cuisine) but with spices steeped into it. The extra spices in make dishes magical. You can use it on any meat, especially chicken and fish.
 
Butter consists of three major components: water, fat and milk solids. The general idea for making clarified butter is that you melt it slowly over a low flame until the water boils off and the milk fat separates and floats to the top. Then, you pour it through a cheesecloth lined sieve to strain out the milk solids, leaving you with the pure fat. It can take a lot more heat that regular butter and it's extremely stable unrefrigerated. It can last for about a month sitting on the counter. Forms of clarified butter are extremely common all over the world where refrigeration is not as readily available.

Niter Kibbeh is basically the same as clarified butter, but toasted spices are included during the clarifying process and it is also cooked at a slightly higher temperature to impart a bit of extra flavor from when the milk solids caramelize. The flavor is left behind even though the milk solids are strained out later.

Since it does so well in high heat, it's excellent for sauteing chicken, fish, pork or even beef on the stove and the exotic spices will really take your cooking up a level. People love the spice combination and usually end up unsuccessfully trying to figure out what's in it. If you have any foody friends, this can make an extremely unique homemade gift for them. Pour some into a cool jar after straining and voila!

All these spices can be found at your regular grocery store except for Fenugreek, which is easily found at Indian food stores. There's powder (called "Methi") or seeds available. Either work, but my recipe uses powder. If you get seeds, just grind them in a grinder or with a mortar and pestle.


Berbere: The exotic spice mixture that is the backbone of all Ethiopian Cuisine

Everything you need to make Berbere (you'll only need the rasp if shaving fresh nutmeg)
My grandfather lived in Ethiopia in the late 1960s and my father visited several times, once staying for almost a year. Unfortunately, my grandfather died before I was born but my father introduced us to Ethiopian cuisine at a very young age. The next several blog posts will be about Ethiopian cuisine. It is truly its own delicious and unique experience, but the only thing I could remotely compare it to is Indian food.

Ethiopian cuisine is basically made up of 3 components:
  • Wat - the spiced vegetable casserole-like side dish (usually collard greens, cabbage, beans or potatoes)
  • Tibbs - the most common style of stewed meat (there are others as well)
  • Injera - a flat sourdough type bread with a delicious tang and a spongey texture
Injera is used to line the serving tray. The tibbs and wat are placed in a small pile on it. Additional injera is served like a tortilla so you can tear off very small pieces and use it to pick up the food. The tangyness of the injera brings its own fun to the party. In traditional Ethiopian cuisine, there are no silverware involved.

This particular post is about how to make Berbere, which is a blend of spices that is the backbone of almost all Ethiopian cuisines. Not to be confused with the talentless Canadian entertainer, Berbere has an exotic taste that I can't really compare to any other flavor. When I smell it in its uncooked form the first thing that comes to mind is, "MMmm! This would be delicious as a Doritos corn chip flavor." Does that put it into perspective for you? :)

It can be difficult to find in stores and the versions I've found don't taste quite right. Many of the same spices are needed to make niter kibbeh (or qibe), the spiced butter that is the other backbone, so I just make my own since I'll need them to make the spiced butter anyway.