Ethiopian Cuisine: Niter Kibbeh, Spiced Clarified Butter

Niter kibbeh (recipe follows) is a staple of the Ethiopian kitchen.  Clarified butter slowly simmered with fenugreek, cardamom, or nigella seeds forms the base for nearly all Ethiopian stews.

Niter Kibbeh

adapted from a March 1995 article in The Columbian


  • 1 stick (1/4 pound) unsalted butter
  • seeds from 7 cardamom pods
  • 1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds

First we melted a stick of butter over low heat in a small saucepan:


Once the butter had melted completely we added the spices and let the flavors steep into the butter:


After about twenty-five minutes the milk solids from the butter had separated and browned, and sunk to the bottom of the saucepan:


The butter was allowed to cool in the pan off the heat for about fifteen minutes until the foam had receded back into the melted butter:


Being careful not to disturb the pan too much and reintroduce the milk solids, the butter was strained into a bowl:


We stopped pouring before the browned mild solids and spices had fallen into the strainer, keeping the finer solids from passing through the strainer holes:


The clarified butter that resulted was a rich yellow color from the fenugreek and was clear:


Clarified butter is used around the world, from France to India.  Niter kibbeh is one of the rare versions that is flavored, and the result is a rich, deeply fragrant cooking fat useful for most any Ethiopian dish.


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