Monday, April 12, 2010
Spiced Clarified Butter (Ethiopian Food Part I)
A large number of people have never had Ethiopian food. Well a large number of people I know anyway. I think that has something to do with being from Vermont. Last I knew there was no Ethiopian restaurants in Vermont. In fact I have only seen them in very large cities like say Montreal or Boston. This my friends is a travisty! Ethiopian food is fabulous! It is full of deep flavors, spices many do not use on a day to day basis but is not necessarily spicy.
When you go to an Ethiopian meal they bring out a large bowl with a thin layer of spongey bread. They bring you a small plate with what looks like a tower of rolled warm face cloths, but really it's small rolls of the same bread, called Injera.
I have no way to describe Injera to you as I am not a food critic, nor am I a writer (this you've probably already deduced yourself). I can only say that it is thin, and pliable, and spongey, and elasticy (is that a word?) and sour and filled with tiny bubbles and like nothing I had ever eaten before. I have yet to master the Injera but I am going to give it another shot in the week to come. I am armed with Teff and Club Soda but that is for another post.
Next they bring out your various items of food and dump them and their amazing sauces into the giant bowl in little piles. The diners rip up pieces of Injera and use it (and their hands no utensils for Ethiopian food) to pick up pieces of food. The whole thing morsel of food and piece of bread is then popped in the mouth. Yum! When all the food is gone you eat the layer of Injera that was under the food and is now soaked through with all the sauces and flavor... and now I'm drooling.
Ethiopian meals are leisurely and often can take hours while you sit around with friends and family having drinks, eating food, and maybe following the whole thing up some Ethiopian coffee (also amazing.... we need more Ethiopian restaurants out there, oh and remember to tip well, you're taking that table for a long time).
I adore meals that are not just a flit through a restaurant to gorge yourself, I love it when they are an experience. When the act of going to the restaurant and sharing the meal is your evening instead of the begining of it.
The draw back of all this wonderfulness is that again there are not a lot of Ethiopian restaurants and once you have it, you're going to want to have it again. And let's just say eating the food isn't the only thing that takes a lot of time. You're not getting those deep flavors from a 30 minute meal. The staple ingredients such as Injera, Berbere (spice mixture or spice paste), and Niter Kibbeh (spiced clarified butter similar to Ghee), are not found in your local grocery store. Okay maybe you could find them in your local store, but not mine, and I'm guess not yours either since they don't keep extended periods of time. The good news is once you have your staple ingredients you can store them for a number of weeks, and can be used for multiple dishes and are very worth the effort if I may so. So let's begin. The first thing you're going to need is the spiced clarified butter. This one is not hard to make at all. Make yourself a cup of tea and grab a magazine, you'll be done in no time.
Niter Kebbeh (Spiced Butter)
adapted slightly from Marcus Samuelsson
1 pound unsalted butter
1/2 medium red onion, coarsely chopped
1 garlic glove, minced
One 3-inch piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin (I was out so I used seeds)
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon tumeric
8 basil leaves (fresh)
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirrng frequently. As foam rises to the top, skim and discard it. Add everything and stir. Continue cooking for 15 minutes on low. Strain through cheesecloth. Keeps in the refrigerator for 3 weeks.
Makes 1 1/2 cups