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Ready for a spicy flour-based beef stew? I know the description of the Pakistani beef nihari recipe is really unique and difficult to imagine. If you love curried beef, you'd just love it. This Nihari recipe is a tribute to my love of Karachi Nihari.
Nihari Recipe originated around the end of the eighteenth century in Nawab’s Kitchen. (Nawabs were semi-autonomous rulers of princely states of South Asia in Mughal times and also after that period.) So we are having some royal Nawabi food.
Nihari comes from the Urdu word Nihar, which means morning. In those times Nawabs would have Nihari for breakfast. It is basically a smooth flour-based spicy beef stew.
After the Partition of India and Pakistan, the dish got extremely popular in Pakistan, especially in Karachi. Karachi foodies love spicy food and Karachi Nihari is all about spices. Here you can read more about nihari at Dawn blogs.
But, if you ask where does Nihari come from? It is still doubtful but most probably in old Dehli or Lucknow. Afterward, it became popular amongst Muslims in South Asia.
How does this recipe work?
The right choice of ingredients: The key to good Nihari recipe is the beef shank and large bones with bone marrow. This ingredient provides the actual buttery flavor and stickiness to the stew.
Spice mix: Nihari spice mix is a combination of many Indian spices. I've donea separate post on Nihari spices mix here. But if your pantry doesn't have Indian spices you can always buy ready-made spice mix from an Indian store or online. How convinient.
The ingredients are actually simple and clearly visible in the labeled pictures. Below I've discussed only ingredients for which I wish to suggest a substitute.
Meat: Nihari is best made with beef shin or shank and bone marrow. 'Nalli' is an Urdu word that means bone marrow.
Bone marrow and bones are key to the flavor of nihari while tough beef shank meat is perfect for long hours of cooking and rich flavor. So I'd suggest sticking to this cut of meat for best results.
Nihari masala: I've tried both homemade and pre-made spices. Pre-made spices are convenient and with extra flavors and seasoning that give you perfect taste without much hassle. Another reason is getting a spice mix is far cheaper than buying all the spices separately. But the ready-made spice mix is spicier and has a flavor enhancer too.
If you have some time and all the spices in hand, making your own spice mix is also easy. I recommend double or triple the recipe and store the extra nihari seasoning in the fridge. So all the effort you put in nihari masala making is worth it.
Garnish: Fresh ginger, chilies, and lemon juice are extremely important to serve with nihari. It adds so much flavor and is a treat to the taste buds. Use large less spicy chilies for garnish.
Wheat flour or Atta: If you do not have wheat flour (AKA atta ) you can use plain flour (maida). For gluten-free options, you can use tapioca flour or corn meal. I've tried cornmeal. It doesn't provide thickness like wheat flour but does the job.
Yogurt: It improves the color of the stew, lightens the spice level, and adds a subtle tanginess to the stew. Low-fat yogurt can be used as well.
Onion: Purple onions work best, if using other varieties avoid sweet onions.
How to make it?
Traditionally, Nihari was cooked overnight for at least 5-6 hours and served in the morning. Today, it is eaten more frequently as the main course than breakfast. Let's go through the steps.
- For making nihari you need a large pot and fry sliced onions on low until lightly golden.
- Add Boneless beef and bones with bone marrow. Fry beef on medium-high heat for 2-3 until color changes and it is slightly golden. Now add all the ingredients in the spice list and stir further for 1 minute.
- Add 4 cups of water enough to cover the beef completely. Bring it to boil then reduce heat to slow and cook for 4 hours or overnight (on very low heat). Make sure the lid is tightly closed. (If using instant pot or pressure cooker, cook time will be 45 minutes.)
- Once the meat is tender, check by breaking meat with a fork.
- Remove the bones. Extract the bone marrow from bones by holding it with a kitchen towel jerking carefully over a bowl. Or insert the back of the spoon to remove it. Removing bone marrow from cool bone is difficult. set the extracted bone marrow aside.
- Make flour slurry by mix flour with cold water until smooth.
- Add flour slurry and whipped yogurt to the beef stew.
- Adjust water as needed and bring it to a boil. Keep stirring so the flour slurry doesn't form lumps. Once the nihari starts boiling. Reduce heat and let it simmer slowly for 15 minutes until a thick layer of oil rises naturally.
- Serve it with garnish and lemon wedges. (Ideally, it should be served 3-4 hours after cooking that is leftovers taste best.)
What is it served with?
But that's somewhat secondary, the real heroes are garnish, julienne ginger, large and less spicy green chilli sliced, freshly chopped cilantro and lemon wedges. Nihari is festive food meant to be dressed up for the occasion with proper garnish.
- Try to make Beef Nihari 4-6 hours ahead and let it sit for a few hours for enhanced flavors. People usually cook it at night and store it in the fridge until the next day.
- You always freeze the leftover nihari as it pretty much retains its flavor upon freezing.
- You can also pour 2-3 tablespoons of heated butter on the nihari before serving which add flavor and also mild down the spices.
With innovations in cooking and growing consumption of chicken. People also make quick and easy Chicken Nihari at home. You can also make mutton nihari with mutton shanks. But a nihari lover knows that both versions are a compromise on actual beef nihari flavors.
Nihari is present on most Pakistani restaurant menus and is widely enjoyed all over Pakistan. It is an integral part of home cooking made on special occasions like Eid and Ramadan. So in this regards Nihari is Pakistani food.
After nihari is cooked, bone marrow is taken out of nihari. When you serve nihari in a bowl and add soft fatty extract of bone marrow (bone is discarded) on top, and finally, you add garnish and tempering. This is called nalli nihari. So Nihari with nalli (bone marrow extracts) is nalli Nihari. Similarly, the cooked brain is also served over the Nihari, it is called Maghaz nihari. 'Maghaz' means brain in Urdu.
Adding 2-3 tablespoons of butter mellows down the spices of nihari. If it is still spicy, add extra wheat flour slurry and water to dilute the spices. Lastly, you can cook a raw potato in the stew that will absorb the spices and salt but some potato flavor will be added to nihari.
Add extra nihari masala or chili powder to the nihari and simmer for 5 minutes so the spices are cooked. Serve with green chili garnish.
Hungry for more?
If you try this Nihari recipe, I'd LOVE to hear your feedback in the comments. Your 5-ratings motivate me to do my best. Stay connected for more recipes and videos on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Youtube.
Nihari Recipe, Pakistani Beef Stew
- ⅓ cup oil
- 1 onion, finely sliced
- 500 grams beef shank, see notes
- 500 grams bones with bone marrow
- 4-6 water , to cook beef, more to thin out gravy.
- ½ cup wheat flour or more for thicker, mixed in 1 cup water.
- ½ cup plain yogurt, whipped
- 2 inch ginger , cut thinly in julliene
- 4 lemon wedges
- 2 large green chili, less spicy one
- a handful fresh coriander / cilantro, chopped
- In a large pot and fry sliced onions on low until lightly golden.
- Add beef and bones. Fry beef on medium-high heat for 2-3 until color changes and it is slightly golden. Now add all the ingredients in the spice list and stir further for 1 minute.
- Now, add 4 cups of water that is enough to cover the beef completely. Bring it to boil then reduce heat to slow and cook for 4 hours or overnight (on very low heat). Make sure the lid is tightly closed. (If using instant pot or pressure cooker, cook time will be 45 minutes.)
- Once the meat is tender, remove the bones. Carefully extract the bone marrow from hot bones and aside in bowl. (If using bones with marrow)
- Make flour slurry by mixing flour with cold water until smooth. Add flour slurry and whipped yogurt to the beef stew.
- Adjust water as needed and bring it to boil. Keep stirring so the flour slurry doesn't form lumps. Once the nihari starts boiling. Reduce heat and let it simmer slowly for 15 minutes until a thick layer of oil rises naturally.
- Now add extrated bone marrow to nihari (if using) and serve hot Nihari with garnish and lemon wedges. Fill extra garnish in a plate and serve along nihari.