Pakistani Nihari (Slow-Cooked Spiced Lamb Stew)

March 10, 2017
Photo by Julia Gartland
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

  • Serves 6 to 8
  • 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
In This Recipe
  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.

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