Pakistani Nihari (Slow-Cooked Spiced Lamb Stew)

March 10, 2017
4 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland
  • Serves 6 to 8
Author Notes

Nihari will always be to me, one of the recipes that best defines Pakistani cuisine, as it’s a confluence of migration, integration, and an evolution of individual flavor through produce and preference. It is no wonder that nihari is considered the national dish of Pakistan.

The Pakistani Nihari has evolved from use of local flavor preferences: In Karachi, in the south of Pakistan, it is made rather hot and even more spiced. In the eastern province of Punjab, there is a city called Chiniot where a dish called Kunna gosht is popular and clearly inspired by Nihari. The spices are slightly different (it uses black pepper and cumin seeds) and there’s the curious addition of milk, but the technique and ultimate flavor is very similar. You will also see nihari made with different cuts of meat, including chicken or goat brains, marrow, and tongue.

When eating Nihari, the stew juices are usually mopped up with naan, kulcha (leavened bread found in Lahore and Amritsar), or roti (flatbread). It is always topped with individual garnishes that enliven the flavor, including ginger, garam masala, lemon, caramelized onions, cilantro, and/or mint. —Sumayya Usmani

What You'll Need
  • For the spice blend:
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 1 cinnamon quill
  • 2 black cardamom pods
  • 10 green cardamom pods
  • 2 star anise
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 2 mace
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons poppy seeds (ground in a mortar and pestle and mixed with 2 tablespoons hot water)
  • 15 cloves
  • 3/4 tablespoon black peppercorn (or 2 to 3 pippali long peppers)
  • For the stew and condiments:
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons ghee
  • 1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and grated finely
  • 1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 3 large lamb shanks
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or 1 1/2 tablespoons Kashmir red chile powder)
  • 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 tablespoon whole wheat flour, sifted (I prefer atta flour, which is used to make chappatis)
  • 2 cups chopped cilantro
  • 2 -inch piece ginger, peeled and julienned
  • 2 green Thai bird chiles (or another thin chile), chopped finely
  • 2 cups fried onions
  • 4 lemons, cut into wedges
  • Naan bread, for serving
  1. In a spice or coffee grinder, grind the spice blend ingredients together.
  2. Over medium heat in a large heavy pot, heat oil and ghee together. Fry the ginger and garlic until the raw smell leaves the pan. Then add in the lamb and fry until the meat is sealed. Add the cayenne pepper, salt, and all the spice blend except 3 teaspoons, which you’ll use as a condiment.
  3. Fry until the spice blend is fragrant. If it sticks to the pan, add a splash of water as you go. Top the meat with about 8 to 10 cups of water, or until the meat is submerged.
  4. Turn the heat to medium low and cook, covered, for about 45 minutes to an hour. Keep checking to see that the meat is simmering but not boiling. After about an hour, take about a cup of the liquid out of the meat and stir in the plain and atta flour until combined. Now pour it into the main pot and stir in evenly. Add about 1 cup of water, cover, and cook on a very low fire for 2 hours, or until the meat falls off the bones.
  5. Serve hot topped with the cilantro, julienned ginger, Thai bird chiles, fried onions, lemons, and remaining spice blend. Eat with naan bread.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • msmely
  • Erin C
    Erin C

2 Reviews

Erin C. November 7, 2021
This was absolutely incredible! I was looking for something to do for my “I was beef stew” craving that wasn’t the traditional beef stew.

In the spirit of using what’s in the pantry and spice cabinet (as well as unfortunate dietary restrictions), I subbed:
-beef roast meant for stew for the lamb shanks
-anise seeds and a couple allspice pods for the star anise
-a long pepper and about 1 tsp of grains of paradise for the black cardamom
-omitted the chili peppers
-used a pressure cooker for about 35 minutes and a little less than 4 cups of water instead of the all-day stovetop method
-pulled the tender meat chunks out after releasing the pressure naturally, added a large, diced white sweet potato and let them simmer in the flavorful broth simmer until they broke down and thickened everything
-tossed in some cubes, Japanese turnips at the end when the meat went back in

This stew was absolutely delicious. Perfect. Like a warm hug in a bowl. Comforting and complex, all at the same time.
msmely April 8, 2019
Followed the spice blend pretty much exactly. Really enjoyed the various sources of warmth, between the cinnamon/nutmeg/mace, the black peppercorn (would be HEAVENLY with long pepper!!) and the cayenne. Instead of topping with fried onions I chopped 2 onions and added to the tadka at the beginning.

I used 1kg of beef sirloin as lamb is ridiculously expensive here and did it in the instant pot. I added just enough liquid to cover the meat for the instant pot (~3 cups) and it ended up being a bit too much liquid. The recipe as written has you simmer the meat for 45 mins and then add flour and cook another 2 hours. I cooked for 1 hour on high in the instant pot and then let pressure release slowly, and added the flour at the end with the reducing step; I ended up having to boil to reduce liquid and the meat began to fall apart, so be aware with different meats the timings will be different. I probably should have only added about 1 cup of liquid and then done more like 45 mins in the instant pot with a slow pressure release.

I served it with chole chana and kalonji naan for a nod in a Punjabi direction.