Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
Nov 30, 2007 08:36 AM

Ideas for Ethiopian spiced butter (niter kebbeh) - points for using koseret

I should know better than to get involved in cooking ... but here I am getting more and more mired in a project which innocently started by buying a package of fresh injera.

I'm trying to make a lentil wat recipe which calls for spiced butter. I look it up and the most common recipe just seems like more than I want to deal with.

Go to African store. Ask if they have it. Of course.

HOWEVER, instead of a little tub of something, I get taken to the spice rack where I'm told all I need to do is mix cumin and korseret into butter ... hmmmm ... but this seems simple so I buy the packages. Here's info on korsoret

Ok, fine.

So at first I find zilch recipes using this. But it seems that spiced butter can vary wildly in what is in it.

Here is one with korerima (an Eritrean form of cardamom), ajwan seeds (a spice similar to thyme) and koseret.

Well, I have more koseret than I'll use in this life, I'm not hunting down and buying korerima too. And the recipe involves grinding herbs. I don't do that for religious reasons ... I'm a practicing cooking sloth.

This one uses tumeric (not my favorite spice so I'd have to buy some) and the dreaded koremima but I like the idea .... throw herbs in a pan with butter on low heat for a few hours.

This one I sort of like mainly because it advises to use Land O Lakes butter which I happen to have. Supposedly this butter has the least milk solids ... never knew that.

Also, if I ever clarified butter in my life, it was only twice at most. The clarifying part comes after the simmering right? .

Also, do I really need clarified butter if I don't care about the keeping quality of this? The woman at the African store just said to mix the spices into room temperature butter. But maybe the long simmering is necessary.

So, any tips? I'm thinking I can be creative with what spices I put in there.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Hopefully you'll get some input from people who actually know something about cooking Ethiopian food. But in the meanwhile...

    Heating the butter accomplishes three things. It takes the solids out of suspension, it "toasts" them, and it releases volatile oils in the spices.

    Taking the solids out of suspension allows you to pour off the pure butterfat off (ie, clarify the butter). Clafiried butter not only keeps indefinitely, it also has a very high smoke point. So if your recipe calls for cooking anything in the niter kebbeh, using unclarified butter might result in burning.

    Toasting the solids will give the end product a deep, nutty flavor, even if you later filter them out. It really does add something to the end flavor of the dish. So does getting the volatile oils out of the spices and into the butterfat.

    Good luck, and keep us posted!

    1. rw, you started all this! Now you have all of us on this thread hankering for these flavors <g>, but I'll put it aside <BG> and take pity on you with a very yummy use for the spiced butter!

      Here goes:

      1 lb. dry curd cottage or farmer cheese (or do as I do - drain some reg. cottage cheese)
      2-3 Tbsp. niter kebbeh
      1 tsp (plus or minus as you see fit!) cayenne
      salt and pepper to taste

      Stir up, and enjoy on injera - I usually make this for a platter when I'm making wats, especially to have the leftovers for breakfast in the morning. I sometimes toss in a little chopped parsley or chives for green stuff and freshness.

      One more quick use: saute your kale or chard or collards etc. in the niter kebbeh. That's the recipe. Very tasty. We sometimes make it to serve with grilled lamb-shoulder chops, as the flavors go well together.

      Also know that the niter kebbeh seems to be used in all sorts of Ethiopian stews and preps, from the raw kifto beef, to the doro wat, to lamb wats, to veggie stews. It's sort of the lubricant of choice, in many cases, and the spicing of choice in others.

      alanb had some great things to say about the butter clarification process and the changes in the flavors. If you like the flavors, and can spare an hour and a half to accomplish the spicing and simmering of the butter, you'll have nearly 2 lbs. of spiced butter to spread (hah!) over 3 months. It's really worth doing. I, however, do not know anything about the koseret use, but I do have a love for turmeric. As for the tweaking of the spices - have at it.

      And dang you, even though Christmas is coming and all the food nutsness attendant to it, I'm going to have to make a whole bunch of Ethiopian ingredients and fit in some wats!. For this alone, you must keep us posted!

      With bated breath and thoughts of berbere-n-butter,

      2 Replies
      1. re: cayjohan

        Do you make your own niter kebbeh or buy it pre-made ... can it be bought pre-made? If you make it what spices do you use.

        Thanks to alanbarnes I decided to do the clarified butter version.

        It turns out that I DID have korerima (an Eritrean form of cardamom). The other package the African market sold me said cardamom for the English translation, I guess.

        Given this store must have quite a few Ethiopean customers given how fresh the spices were, for my first go at this I went simple and just made enough for my wat.

        1 Tablespoon koseret
        1 teaspoon korerima
        1/4 cup of butter

        I put it all in a small pan and simmered on low for a little over an hour and then strained it through a fine tea strainer. How clarified this was I have no clue but it seemed to work well.

        Next time I'll play around with the spices now that I have the idea. I'm liking the idea of adding cinnamon to this. I wonder if I can just start with ghee so I don't have to fret about whether my butter is clarified or not.

        Thanks for the encouragement and the idea with the cottage cheese. Sounds delicious.

        1. re: rworange

          I make it myself - recipe at I have never seen niter kebbeh pre-made, but then I've never looked for it either.

          The idea to start with ghee might have some merit, but I've never done it. Maybe others know? And cinnamon? The butter recipe referenced above does use it. Tastes wonderful.

      2. For what it's worth, I usually get by without it. Yes, I'm prepared to lose the 100% authenticity, but (a) I don't find that eliminating it it really lowers the quality all that much, and (b) Ethiopian food is, in large part, just swimming in butter, and I like the bold flavors so much I feel compelled to lower the calories.

        5 Replies
        1. re: wayne keyser

          Swimming in butter? Maybe some Ethiopian cooks. My friends tend to be rather sparing with butter but not with the flavor. The Eritrean restuarant (in Santa Rosa-- foods are similar but not exactly the same) tends to be light on the butter as well. There are so many Ethnic groups in Ethiopia that I would caution about global statements about the cuisine. I wonder if what we get in the US has some major modifications going on (similar to what has been seen in Chinese Restuarants).

          1. re: drmimi

            drmimi, I don't see things Ethiopian swimming in butter either. I think the heavily flavored spiced butter goes a very long way in finishing a dish that is essentially stewed in its own juices (veg. or meat), but it's not the main component. But wayne k is also correct in citing the bold flavors - you can get those without the intense amounts of butter called for in some recipes - over the "grease." I would hazard that the long simmered spices in butter yields a very favorful addition to the cuisine, to be used as judiciously as one wants.

            Still, drmimi, you bring up an important point about modifications in the US. The way I read culinary history, I see preservation of fat sources and non-over-use in that vein to be important. For a cuisine with at least some roots in conservation of resources, I can't see extravagant use of butter to be a usual practice. At least, in our house, we use it judiciously.

            But we do love it. And use the niter kibbeh within reason.

            1. re: cayjohan

              I think you may be right about the butter being unnecessary and the long stewing and the spices the thing here. I'm thinking of trying one version with olive oil and one version with no oil and just adding the spices in the butter to the wat ... though I won't get the toasty quality to the spices.

              1. re: rworange

                toasting the spices dry can get you to the same place, I would think, as in Wayne K's berbere recipe. Plenty of precedent: think of the oasting involved in various curry preps.

            2. re: drmimi

              Many ethnic groups in Ethiopia?

              I have never seen this mentioned in any cookbook or restaurant. It's something I'd love to know more about! I wonder - if the regional cooking of China is so varied, for instance, what might we find out by looking at Ethiopia?

              Anyone know more?

          2. After our delicious feast this weekend, even with injera failure, I vote very affirmatively for the niter kebbeh. It added a depth of flavor and aroma (for someone without a good sense of smell) that really added to the dish. I found that my coat actually smelled of it today, which may or may not be a good thing to others. It sounds like a lot of work, but is actually quite easy, since after the initial chopping it is pretty much hands-off, as long as someone is in the house for safety reasons and the heat is really low.

            2 Replies
            1. re: bear

              Oh, dear! Injera failure! Injera failure! You're braver than I even to attempt it (I know where my weaknesses lie, waiting to trip me up).

              If it will help you engage in the bold venture again, I found several "how to make injera" videos here:


              Just search for "ethiopian". Best of luck! (PS - bet there are some on youtube as well)

              1. re: bear

                bear, will you let us know what you made? I'm so curious and as I've said before, these Ethiopian cuisine threads are torture since the food is so tantalizing!

                Let us live vicariously? :-)