Ethiopian spiced butter is not so much a sauce as a cooking medium, although it does make an intriguing simple sauce for pheasant, quail or white fish. Niter Kebbeh (NIT-r KEB-beh) is the aromatic, clarified butter we cooked with at the Eritrean restaurant Horn of Africa I worked at in Madison many years ago. We had a giant tub of it and would make it by the kilo every week or so.
Eritrea, in case you don’t know, is a country along the Red Sea that was once part of Ethiopia; its cooking is very similar. Exact recipes for Ethiopian standards don’t exist, so it’s like curry or a Bolognese sauce — every cook has his or her own recipe.
The recipe that follows is mine, but you can find other equally authentic ones.
Our niter kebbeh at the restaurant absolutely required four things (other than butter): minced shallots, toasted cardamom, fenugreek and turmeric. Oh, and one other thing — time. Slow cooking is essential to this concoction.
Ethiopian Spiced Butter
- 1 pound unsalted butter
- 2 minced shallots, about 1/4 cup
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
- 12 to 15 crushed cardamom pods
- 5 whole cloves
- 1 piece cinnamon stick, about an inch long
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
- Toast the cardamom, cloves and cinnamon in a dry pan over medium heat until they are aromatic, about a minute.
- Cut the butter into cubes.
- Toss everything into a heavy pot and turn the heat on low. Let this come to a bare simmer and cook gently for at least 30 minutes. We cooked ours at least an hour. It is vital that the milk solids do not burn. If they do, you have ruined the butter. Watch for browning, and when you see it, turn off the heat.
- Strain through cheesecloth and store in a clean glass jar. It'll last 6 months in the fridge, at least a week on the counter, and forever in the freezer.