Nihari Recipe: A Heart of Pak-Indian Cuisine

by Cook Granny

Nihari, a soul-warming stew originating from the Indian subcontinent, holds a special place in the hearts and palates of food enthusiasts. This slow-cooked delicacy, often enjoyed as a hearty breakfast or a comforting dinner, boasts a rich history and a unique blend of spices that make it an integral part of Pakistani cuisine.

In this comprehensive article, we will delve into the origins of Nihari, explore its cultural significance, and guide you through the step-by-step process of preparing this flavorful dish in your kitchen.

The History and Cultural Significance of Nihari

Nihari, which translates to “morning” in Urdu, is believed to have originated in the royal kitchens of the Mughal Empire during the 17th century. It was initially created as a nourishing and energy-boosting meal for soldiers before their morning drills. Over time, Nihari transitioned from a military staple to a beloved dish people of all backgrounds enjoyed.

This slow-cooked stew gained popularity in the Indian subcontinent, particularly in regions under Mughal influence. Today, Nihari is an integral part of Pakistani cuisine and is relished for its rich flavor and the communal experience it provides.

It is often enjoyed with naan (traditional flatbread) or steamed rice, making it a favorite during family gatherings, celebrations, and special occasions.

The Unique Blend of Spices in Nihari

Significance of NihariWhat sets Nihari apart is its complex and aromatic spice blend, carefully crafted to infuse the meat with layers of flavor during the slow-cooking process. The key spices used in Nihari include:

Whole Spices:

  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Green cardamom pods
  • Black cardamom pods
  • Cloves
  • Black peppercorns
  • Bay leaves

Ground Spices:

  • Red chili powder
  • Turmeric powder
  • Coriander powder
  • Cumin powder
  • Fennel powder
  • Garam masala

Ginger-Garlic Paste:

  • Freshly ground ginger and garlic add a robust flavor to the dish.

These spices combine to create a harmonious blend that imparts a deep color to the stew and infuses it with a tantalizing aroma.

The Meat: Choosing the Right Cut

Choosing the Right CutTraditionally, Nihari is made with tougher cuts of meat, such as beef shank or lamb shank. These cuts contain connective tissues and marrow, which, when slow-cooked, contribute to the rich and gelatinous texture of the stew.

It’s important to source high-quality, fresh meat from a reliable butcher to ensure the authenticity of your Nihari. Allow the meat to come to room temperature before cooking, which helps achieve a more tender result.

The Slow-Cooking Process

Nihari is renowned for its slow-cooking method, which allows the meat to tenderize and the spices to meld together, creating a robust and flavorful stew. Here’s a step-by-step guide to making authentic Nihari at home:


  • 1 kg beef or lamb shank on the bone
  • Three tablespoons ghee (clarified butter)
  • Two large onions, thinly sliced
  • Two tablespoons of ginger-garlic paste
  • Two tablespoons of Nihari masala (readily available at South Asian grocery stores)
  • One tablespoon of red chili powder
  • One teaspoon of turmeric powder
  • One teaspoon of coriander powder
  • One teaspoon of cumin powder
  • One teaspoon of  fennel powder
  • Salt, to taste
  • 4 cups water
  • Fresh coriander leaves, chopped, for garnish
  • Ginger, julienned, for garnish
  • Fresh green chilies, sliced, for garnish
  • Lemon wedges for serving


Prepare the Meat:

    • Clean and wash the meat thoroughly. Pat it dry with paper towels.
    • In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat ghee over medium heat.

Sauté the Onions:

  • Add sliced onions to the pot and sauté until golden brown.

Add Ginger-Garlic Paste:

  • Stir in the ginger-garlic paste and cook for 2-3 minutes until the raw aroma disappears.

Introduce the Meat:

  • Add the meat to the pot and brown it on all sides to seal in the juices.

Incorporate Spices:

  • Sprinkle Nihari masala, red chili powder, turmeric powder, coriander powder, cumin powder, fennel powder, and salt over the meat. Mix well to coat the meat evenly with the spices.

Slow-Cooking Process:

    • Pour water into the pot, ensuring that the meat is fully submerged.
    • Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer for at least 4-6 hours. The longer the cooking time, the more tender and flavorful the Nihari.

Check for Doneness:

  • Check the meat for tenderness after a few hours. It should easily fall off the bone.

Serve Hot:

    • Ladle the Nihari into bowls and garnish with fresh coriander leaves, julienned ginger, and sliced green chilies.
    • Serve hot with naan or steamed rice and lemon wedges on the side.

Tips for a Perfect Nihari

Perfect NihariPatience is Key

  • Allow the Nihari to slow-cook for an extended period. This ensures that the meat becomes incredibly tender and absorbs all the flavors of the spices.

Preparation Ahead of Time

  • Nihari can be prepared a day in advance and tastes even better when reheated. This makes it a convenient dish for gatherings and special occasions.

Customize Spice Levels

  • Adjust the amount of red chili powder and green chilies according to your spice preference. Nihari is versatile and can be enjoyed mildly or spicyly.

Pairing with Accompaniments

  • While Nihari is delightful, consider serving it with traditional accompaniments like naan, steamed rice, or even crusty bread to soak up the flavorful broth.

Experiment with Garnishes

  • Get creative with your garnishes. In addition to the classic coriander leaves, ginger, and green chilies, you can add fried onions, mint leaves, or a dollop of yogurt for a refreshing twist.


Nihari is more than just a dish; it celebrates flavors, culture, and tradition. The slow cooking process and the meticulous selection of spices combine to create a symphony for the senses. Whether enjoyed during a festive occasion or as a comforting meal on a cold day, Nihari can transport you to the heart of Pakistani cuisine.

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