Saturday, February 11, 2012

Ethiopian Food: Nit'ir Qibe

So proud to say this is the dinner I served to some good friends last night!

Have I mentioned that I really love to cook? I would love to go to culinary school and actually learn to cook, but for now, I content myself with my little experiments at home.

Food is such an integral part of culture, so when we first decided to adopt from Ethiopia, food was the first aspect of Habesha culture that I dove into!  And over the past two years I've been learning more recipes and getting slowly better at making the food from my son's homeland.

And I thought I'd share some of my recipes with y'all over the next few weeks! Some have some good stories to go along with them.

And I'll start with something I just recently learned how to make: nit'ir qibe: Ethiopian clarified spiced butter.

Honestly, I wish I had learned this first. It is a staple of Ethiopian cooking and Ethiopians will tell you that no matter what you do, you just can't quite get it right here in America. Something about our cows not being right. But I made my first batch and gave some to an Ethiopian friend, who said it was almost as good as hers! Well, that is good enough for me!!

My recipe is from the book "The Soul of a New Cuisine" by Marcus Samuelsson. His story is really cool: he is Ethiopian and was adopted by a Swedish family, so he grew up in Sweden. There, he became a chef and eventually moved to NY, where he encountered lots of Ethiopians and began to learn more about the food in Ethiopia and other parts of Africa. It's a cookbook, but I actually took it to bed with me and read it like a regular book. My mother-in-law gave it to me for Christmas and it really is awesome. It would be a great gift to give a family adopting from Ethiopia!

Before you decide this is "just butter" and that you'd rather skip right to the real Ethiopian recipes, let me tell you: this butter is amazing! And it really made a difference in my Ethiopian dishes!!  And it makes a LOT and keeps for weeks.  It's a little bit of work, but totally worth it the minute you smell it melting in your saute pan. Heavenly!! Rob gave me the best compliment yesterday - he came home and said our house smelled like Oziopia, the wonderful guest house where we stayed for our first court trip!

Nit'ir Qibe
1 lb unsalted butter
1/2 medium red onion, coarsely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
3-inch piece ginger, peeled & finely chopped
1 tsp fenugreek seeds (this was what my Ethiopian friend said she omits - choose your own adventure here)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp cardamom seeds (I used 1/2 tsp ground because I already had ground and cardamom is expensive!)
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
8 basil leaves

This part takes forever: melt the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently. As foam rises to the top, skim and discard it.  You can be doing a million other things while you do this, since you just have to check in every few minutes to skim the foam off the top and then stir again. I think I was folding laundry at the same time. Go ahead and be impressed with my multitasking skills (just kidding!).

Continue cooking without letting the butter brown and no more foam appears. At this point, you've made clarified butter!

Add the onion, garlic, ginger, fenugreek, cumin, cardamom, oregano, turmeric, and basil and continue cooking for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove from the heat and let stand until the spices settle. Strain through a fine sieve before using.
Store in a tightly covered container in the fridge.

I asked some Ethiopians if they ever use this butter as a spread and I got a resounding NO... but my dad and I put it on some toast just to try it out and it was pretty good! :)

I used this butter to make gomen and  tibs... two recipes I'll share soon!  So go make it and you'll be all ready to go for my next post! :)


  1. You can also rock out with the clarified butter when you want to cook Indian food (or you can just buy Ghee in the store...). Makes paneers taste great!

  2. Oh My - for someone who can't smell and doesn't have much sense of taste this sounds completely ominous!!! I did love the part about multi-tasking though!!! Love you bunches!!!

  3. oh i am SO glad to have found your blog! LOVE your recipes you have posted. thank you!! we are also adopting, have been in process a long time. I have been saying of late I'd love to take some of this time to learn to cook some of this food I love SO much and which hopefully our girlie will love too, when she gets home. A local Ethiopian friend has offered to teach me some dishes...and she also mentioned Marcus Samuelsson whose book I see you linked here. Fabulous! Thank you for sharing these!

  4. Hello again! I had NO idea you were a Gladney family when I commented. How wonderful. Thank you for your sweet and encouraging words on my page. The wait feels long these days....we are trying to trust in God's timing, but OH it's hard sometimes! Looking forward to trying your far I've found the Nit'r Kibeh, Gomen, and Alitcha Aterkik. Are there any others? I feel like you mentioned Shiro and Tibs on another post, but I cannot find those. Thank you so much...I am going to get cooking!!

  5. You are so right - I did mention them and then never got around to posting recipes! :) If you send me your email in a comment (I won't post it), I'll email them to you! :)


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