There are a few Pakistani recipes that can stand on their own. That don't need a second fiddle, a side, anything else really except the garnishes that accompany it. Biryani is one such dish, but if I am to be honest than my favourite one dish meal is Nihari. With it's strong spices, beautifully tender meat, the sourness of the lemon, that bright leafy cilantro. If I had a last meal request it would be Nihari.
I shared my recipe for Dum ka Qeema here recently and said that it was one of my bucket list foods, one of the dishes that I wanted to be able to make well from scratch. Nihari is another such dish. There are several masala brands that sell a Nihari spice mix and while I enjoy it immensely there is something eminently satisfying about homemade. The flavour is decidedly different, earthier, more robust. However if you like that particularly flavour but want a homemade base then feel free to add a tablespoon or so of it into your "tari" oil at the end.
You may be wondering why I am sharing this recipe now. Well folks, Eid is a coming and Nihari is a wonderful Eid dish. That said, for optimum flavour it has to be made at least a day before you serve it. Bonus points if you make it two days ahead of time. As the Nihari sits the flavours really develop and come in to their own. I find it hard to be so patient, but it is far better this way.
Nihari in the Instant Pot
Speaking of patience, I used my Instant Pot to make the Nihari twice. The first time I slow cooked it for 5 hours and learnt that staring at it does not make the time go by any faster. The second time I tried it in my IP I pressure cooked it for 50 minutes and naturally released it. Both times the meat was tender and the bones had released their brothiness. I had a slight preference for the slow cooked flavour, but two days after making it the taste difference was negligible.
It does seem to me that the most important determinant of how good it will be are the bones. Harass your friendly neighborhood butcher, plead a little, bust our your best dialogues. Because without the bones it ain't worth it. True story.
What is the Best Meat for Nihari?
Nihari has traditionally been made with large shank pieces. You can use beef, mutton or even lamb. I make my Nihari with beef always and ask for the butcher to cut the meat into large cubes.
What Bones do I need for Nihari?
A great Nihari - with that beautiful rich broth - requires great bones. The best bones to use for Nihari are the bones from the shank, anything where joints are, and if you are a marrow person than that works well too. The bones are the reason why slow cooking Nihari creates better flavor. It takes a while for the bones to render their maximum flavour and richness.
- 2 lb Large chunks of beef/veal - 3 inch pieces
- 1-2 lb bones
- 2 tbsp salt
- 1 ½ tbsp ginger paste
- 1 ½ tbsp garlic paste
- 1 tbsp red chilli powder
- 1 tbsp kashmiri chilli powder
- 1 tbsp coriander powder
- ½ tsp turmeric powder
- Ghee/Oil for cooking
- 1 large onion
- 1.5 tbsp coriander seeds
- 1.5 tbsp saunf
- 1.5 tsp whole black pepper
- 1.5 tsp whole cloves
- ½ tbsp cumin seeds
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ tsp grated nutmeg
- 2 1-inch cinnamon sticks
- 2-3 piece mace
- 3 black cardamoms
- 4-6 green cardamoms
- 1 piece dried ginger (small, can sub with ½ tbsp of gingepowder)
- 6 whole red chillies (round)
- 1 tsp kalonji
- 2 pieces of peepli or 3-4 kabab chini (optional)
- lemon wedges
- sliced green chillies
- julienned ginger
Dry roast all the ingredients in a frying pan (no oil), grind to a powder. Set aside
Heat oil in a large pot
Thinly slice your onion, fry till golden brown then spread on paper towels to dry. (we will use these at the end)
Add all the remaining ingredients in the first list and stir fry the meat until its browned and the masala is cooked - about 4-5 minutes
Then add your Nihari Masala Mix and 7 cups of water and stir well.
Pressure cook for 45-50 minutes or slow cook for 4-5 hours undisturbed to get beautifully tender meat. For slow cooking stove top, bring the mixture to a boil then let it simmer covered.
Once the time is up skim any greyish scum that may rise to the top and discard.
Crush the onions and mix in, bring the nihari to a boil
If you are serving this another time then set it aside for the nihari to cool.
When ready to eat then dissolve ⅓ cup atta in 1 cup water and whisk briskly as you add it to the nihari
The nihari will thicken as it cooks - 10 to 15 minutes
Adjust consistency per liking (more water or atta+water), just remember you need to simmer after adding it to lose the raw taste.
Heat a few tbsp of oil in a small saucepan and add 1.5 tbsp of kashmiri laal mirch (for colour) and add it on top of the nihari like a tadka/baghaar.
Nihari recipes have a few unusual ingredients - mace, nutmeg, dried ginger (soonth) - you can buy these whole or in powder form and it all works well.
Please note the recipe calls for 2 measuring spoons tbsp of salt, if you want to play it safe please start with 1 and then add the other towards the end with the atta/water mix.
While you can use ghee or oil for true flavour I highly recommend ghee most importantly for the tari at the end
Homemade Nihari does not taste like the ubiquitous packet nihari, if you have a hankering for that flavour absolutely add a tbsp of that in your tari. Homemade Nihari also gets exponentially better as it sits!
Nihari gets a lot of it's flavour from the bones, if you want to really extract it to it's maximum then slow cook those overnight in just water and cook your nihari with that water. You can then discard the bones and cook the nihari part with just the meat.