Traditions we kept alive.
Nihari is one of the most majestic dishes that defines the Pakistani cuisine today however, you can find its roots in the time of nawabs of Lucknow or streets of Delhi. I am still doing my research on who has a real claim on the Nihari as we know it today.
The legacy of these traditional recipes is still kept alive in Pakistan even 77 years after the partition. Years might have brought changes and modifications – according to individual preferences – to the originally created dish, the quintessence has not changed. The deep, rich and flavorful stew still gives the warmth of a hearty meal on breakfast tables across Pakistan and around the world.
What does Nihari Mean?
The story of Nihari is very fascinating and noteworthy.The word Nihari comes from the Arabic word Nahar (or Urdu word Nihar) which means morning ( sobah) thus Nihari implies the food that is consumed early in the morning (soba khaya janay wala khana).
Where did it originate from?
Watching a documentary by Chef Ranveer Brar on Youtube, I learnt how in Lucknow, initially, Nihari was made for the locals and the working class. It was a rich delectable stew made with boneless meat chunks and bones. It was cooked throughout the night for six – eight hours and was ready to serve at sunrise. As the chef narrates, “it was the food of the working class – full of flavors, warmth and nutrition needed to work all day long”. The dish was accepted and appreciated by everyone at large and it made its way from the dastarkhwan (table) of locals to the royal table of nawabs. The nawabs would eat the nihari at breakfast, especially in winters and would sleep till afternoon. Well, this makes sense. Even today when we indulge in Nihari we just doze off to sleep 🙂
Which meat to use to make Nihari?
Nihari is made with different cuts of meat (beef, veal or goat) including goat brain, marrow or joint. There is no set rule for which part of the meat should be used. The rule of the thumb is that bones-in meat or separately bones (paya or joints) along with boneless meat should be used. It adds the the real essence to the broth by extracting all the minerals and nutrients from the bones. Today, nalli ka gosht or bong meat, is the preferred choice for making nihari simply because bone marrow is extremely beneficial for our health.
Years went by but they could not change is the basic method to cook nihari. Nihari is cooked on slow flame for hours to create that finger licking magic. I love the fact that even today, we cherish the slow cooking techniques from the past.
The main elements and flavors of a perfect nihari can be summarized as:
- Meat is braised with whole spices (cloves, tez patta, black cardamom) onions and yogurt to make a perfect foundation of bhouna masala. Meat is flavored with turmeric and freshly grinded coriander seed powder.
- Braised meat and bones are left to simmer to create a flavorful broth
- A spend of aromatic, earthy spices is prepared and added to the simmering meat stew
- Lastly, the nihari is let to simmer with the blend of spices for hours at a stretch with addition of wheat flour which gives the consistency of a thick shorba (curry).
- Lastly, before serving a bhagar / tarka of ghee and chili powder is added on the top.
- Garnish with julienne cut green chilies, thinly cut ginger and freshly chopped coriander leaves.
Combination of flavors in Nihari
I was amazed to know, as chef Ranveer narrated that historically nihari was made in mustard oil and not ghee or vegetable oil. Over the years, ghee has taken over mustard oil but I am really definitely making it in mustard oil soon.
Many recipes don’t call for braising the meat with yogurt. When I shared the recipe on my Instagram, I got so many messages, on the use of yogurt in nihari. The ethusiams was similar to discussions on whether to put aloo in biryani. I would say, do try adding yogurt since it gives a lot of flavor to the meat.
Traditionally, nihari is not seasoned with red chilies, it is spiced with the combination of earthy spices like black cumin, black cardamom, black pepper, tailed black pepper (pepli) and dry ginger. Strong flavor of these spices is balanced with aromatic spices like green cardamom, fennel seeds, cinnamon sticks and dry rose petals / star anis.
Every family and region improvised the recipe according to their own taste buds. Therefore, many recipes use a blend of Kashmiri red chili powder and regular red chili powder which gives the nihari a deep red color – something I don’t really like. A perfect nihari needs to have that deep brownish gold color.
How to serve Nihari ?
Nihari is best served with shermaal, naan, kulcha or roti. It is always topped with individual garnishes that enhances the flavor, including green chilies, ginger, thinly sliced onions nicely seasoned with salt, cilantro, and/or mint.
This is the first time I made Nihari. I used boneless beef chunks since I did not have any bone-in meat otherwise I would have definitely added it. Here is my take on the nihari, from my dastarkhwan to yours. Enjoy!
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 6 hours
Servings: 6 – 8 individuals
- Boneless beef shanks – 1 kilo
- Bones/Joints – 300 – 500 gm (I didn’t use them in this recipe)
- Large onion – 5, thinly sliced
- Ghee – ¾ cup
- Ginger water – 1 tablespoon
- Bay leaves – 2
- Cloves – 5
- Black cardamom – 3-4
- Yogurt – 1 ½ cup
- Salt – 1 tablespoon or as required
- Turmeric powder – 1.5 tablespoon
- Green chilies, Ginger, garlic paste – 1 tablespoon (grind them all together to make a paste)
- Coriander powder – 3 tablespoons
- Red chili powder – 1 teaspoon (it is used to enhance the flavor of turmeric)
- Nihari masala – 2 tablespoons
- Wheat flour – 4 tablespoons (dissolved in ¼ cup of water)
- Kewra essence – ½ – 1 teaspoon
- Garnish – onions, lemon, green chilies and ginger
- Fennel seeds – 1.5 tablespoon
- Green cardamom – 1 tablespoon
- Dry rose petals – 1 teaspoon
- Star anis – 1
- Cinnamon stick – 1 inch, 2 pieces
- Black cardamom – 3 – 4
- Black cumin – 1.5 tablespoon
- Black pepper – 2 tablespoons
- Tail pepper (pepli) – 4 pieces
- Allspice (kabab cheeni) – 8 pieces
- Dry ginger powder (soonth) – 1 inch piece– 1 tablespoon
- Jayfal & Javitri – ¼ teaspoon each
- Mustard seeds – ¼ teaspoon (optional)
- Kalonji – ¼ teaspoon (optional)
- Lemon grass – 1 teaspoon (optional)
- First, prepare the nihari masala. Grind dry ginger in mortar pestle. Dry roast all the spices in a pan and grind them into a fine powder along with the dry ginger powder. Sieve the blended spices to get a fine blend of nihari spice masala. Keep the residual of the sieved masala saved for tarka at the end.
- In a large pot, heat ghee on medium flame. Add whole spices i.e., bay leaves, cloves and black cardamom. When the spices sizzle, add garlic water.
- Add thinly sliced onions to the ghee, initially the onions might look a lot in quantity as compared to the oil but as they cook, they will become translucent and soft.
- As the onions become a slight golden-ish, add meat and let them cook together. After a minute of sautéing, add salt in the meat. Salt will help the meat and onions to release water content which will help the meat and onions in bhounaye.
- While the meat is bhounofying, in a separate bowl mix yogurt with green chilies, ginger garlic paste, turmeric, coriander powder and red chilies.
- Add yogurt, mix into the meat and let it cook on medium flame until the masala is very nicely bhounfied. Cook until water content from the yogurt is all dried up. Once it is done completely, masala will become ek jan and oil will separate from the masala. Keep stirring with your spatula or doi off-and-on, during this stage. It will take approximately 10 – 15 minutes.
- Now, add 4 – 5 cups of water in the meat to cook the nihari meat on slowest flame for 1 – 2 hours until the meat is nicely tender.
- After, 1.5 hours of cooking the nihari meat is 80% cooked. Remove the layer of oil from the top of the nihari stew and keep it aside.
- In a bowl mix wheat flour and nihari masala with water. The wheat flour mix should be slightly thick (lump free) yet pouring consistency.
- Bring the nihari to a boil and add the wheat flour mix into the stew, let it cook on medium flame for 10 minutes. Earlier the oil (tari of the stew) was removed because the wheat flour would have absorbed all the oil.
- Add kewra essence and then reduce to slowest flame. Let the nihari simmer for 1 – 2 hours more on dam flame. Slow cooking of nihari is very important to get that deep golden-brown color of the gravy and thick poring consistency.
- After one hour of cooking, add the earlier removed oil (tari) back into the nihari and let is simmer again for a while.
- Nihari is almost ready. Just before the serving make a tarka for the nihari.
- For tarka, heat ghee (2 tbsp) with residual sieved nihari spices ( 1 tbsp) and red chili powder ( 1 tsp). Sieve the tarka while pouring on nihari.
- Garnish the nihari with fresh coriander leaves, thinly cut ginger and green chilies.
- With nihari must serve condiments are:
- freshly cut thin slices of onions thoroughly washed and seasoned with salt
- lemon wedges
- julienne cut ginger
- green chilies
- Nihari is a definitely a labor of love and patience. Serve it with shermaal, naan, paratha.