Niter Kibbeh


If you are ever lucky enough to get an Ethiopian cab driver, like I have a few times, bring up Ethiopian food to them. They love when you love their food. It always embarrassed my kids, of course. As soon as I asked, “Are you from Ethiopia?” they would roll their eyes, because they knew what was coming. I would ask only because their names were always Haile on their licenses. But I love talking to these men because I really do love Ethiopian food and also want to get correct pronounciations for the names of the dishes. Unfortunately none of these men actually knew about cooking any of the dishes, perhaps because women do all of the cooking? But they always knew the names and the significant ingredients, so that was fun. It’s also how I got a name of an Ethiopian market in Dallas one time. Unfortunately I haven’t been yet but it would be a fabulous experience.

Niter Kibbeh, which I don’t know how to pronounce, is a spiced, clarified butter. Along with berberé, it is necessary for cooking Ethiopian cuisine.

Here are the directions for making it, and next we start cooking Ethiopian food!

Niter Kebbeh
Spiced Butter Oil

To make about 2 cups

2 pounds unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 small onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
4 teaspoons finely chopped ginger root
1 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 cardamom pod, slightly crushed with the flat of a knife, or a pinch of cardamom seeds
1 piece of stick cinnamon, 1 inch long
1 whole clove
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg, preferably freshly grated

In a heavy 4- to 5-quart saucepan, heat the butter over moderate heat, turning it about with a spoon to melt it slowly and completely without letting it brown. Then increase the heat and bring the butter to a boil. When the surface is completely covered with white foam, stir in the remaining ingredients.


Reduce the heat to the lowest possible point and simmer uncovered and undisturbed for 45 minutes, or until the milk solids on the bottom of the pan are a golden brown and the butter on top is transparent.


Slowly pour the clear liquid into a bowl, straining it through a fine sieve lined with a linen towel or cheesecloth. Discard the seasonings. If there are any solids left in the butter, strain it again to prevent it from becoming rancid later.


Pour the kebbeh into a jar, cover tightly, and store in the refrigerator. Kebbeh will solidify when chilled.


26 thoughts on “Niter Kibbeh

  1. We have quite a large Ethiopian community in Melbourne too, but have to confess I have never eaten their food. Can’t wait to see what you’ll make with the spices and butter.

  2. I pinned the berberé recipe and now I’ll pinning this one, too. Please say that you’ll be posting some recipes using both. I’d love to experiment and give them a try. And, of course, thank you for sharing both recipes with us.

  3. The ingredients / spices in Niter Kibbeh also prevent the butter from spoiling. Sometimes for up to a year. This was important when you realize most people did not happen to have a fridge… :)

  4. There is an cook in Addis with a hole in the wall restaurant. He has a “personal” method of cooking which involves adding spices, certain vegetables, and Je-ne-sais-quoi’s in his cooking. I tried his food and it was good, sometimes damn good, and once Scary Good! :) I’ll try to finangle a recipe or something if you are interested… Scouts honor.

  5. I have made Sik Sik Wat before and it is fabulous and the Berbere and Niter Kebbeh last for along time in the fridge. Haven’t made it for a long time but now I am anxious to make it again!!!

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