Recipe of the week
Ethiopia’s secret sauce: Your brunch menu just got a little spicier
Niter kebbeh, a spiced clarified butter, is “the soul of Ethiopian cuisine,” says Yohanis Gebreyesus in Ethiopia: Recipes and Traditions From the Horn of Africa (Interlink Books). Used as the cooking oil in many recipes, it adds a distinctive texture and aroma that anyone who has ever stepped into an Ethiopian kitchen would recognize instantly, and “once you’ve tried it, you’ll see that infusing clarified butter is a wonderful technique to add to your repertoire.” The flavor possibilities are endless.
Niter kebbeh even has a place in morning meals. All across Ethiopia, you’ll find variations on a dish consisting of thin pancakes torn into pieces and seasoned with niter kebbeh. This recipe, from the Oromia region, calls for berbere, the chile-based spice blend that’s also integral to Ethiopian cooking. Berbere can be purchased premixed, and for the Ethiopian herbs, which may be hard to find, substitutes are suggested. To substitute for nigella seeds (black cumin), try mixing cumin seeds and black pepper.
Chechebsa (butter-soaked flatbread)
To make 1¼ cups niter kebbeh:
1 lb 2 oz unsalted butter
1 tsp coriander seeds (optional)
1 tsp nigella seeds
½ tsp cardamom seeds
1 tsp dried koseret or equal parts dried oregano and thyme
1 tsp dried besobella or Thai basil
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt butter over low heat, skimming off foam. Cook for about 5 minutes until solid, milky residue sinks to bottom, but do not let the solids darken. Remove pan from heat and allow to cool a little, then strain liquid into a clean saucepan and discard solids.
Add coriander, nigella, and cardamom seeds to clarified butter and cook over low heat until aromatic, 5 to 10 minutes, stirring gently from time to time. Add dried herbs and cook 5 minutes more, stirring gently.
Watch to make sure butter does not darken. Remove pan from heat. Let settle. Strain liquid through cheesecloth into a clean glass jar.
To make chechebsa:
1 generous cup all-purpose flour
Oil, for greasing pan
3½ tbsp niter kebbeh
½ tbsp berbere spice blend
In a large mixing bowl, combine flour with a generous pinch of salt. Whisk in 1 cup water to make a thin batter.
Heat a large griddle or frying pan over medium heat and very lightly grease with oil. Ladle in enough batter to thinly coat bottom, tilting pan as needed. Cook pancake until golden, 2 to 3 minutes, then flip, cover with a lid, and cook another 2 minutes. Transfer to plate. Repeat with remaining batter.
In a small saucepan, melt niter kebbeh. Stir in berbere. While pancakes are still warm, cut into pieces and place in a serving bowl. Pour melted niter kebbeh over chechebsa, turning pieces until well coated. Serve warm, with side bowls of yogurt and honey, for adding as desired. Serves 2 to 3.