Peppery Pakistani: Lamb nihari

It was a Saturday, and Miranda had spent the day at work, leaving the recipe for Pakistani nihari (slow cooked lamb) in Ash’s capable hands. By the time she got home, he’d confused the butcher by requesting that a full leg of lamb was cut into five chunks, searched high and low in a number of different shops for black cardamon (eventually successfully), managed to grind the spices into a satisfactory powder and was just adding the spice blend to the pot. After letting it cook for a while, Miranda tasted the sauce. Now, Miranda is not one to shy away from spicy food, but even she was surprised at the extent to which her head felt like it was about to explode. There wasn’t that much chilli in it – surely?

‘Oh – I suppose the black pepper will be adding some heat, too,’ she realised.

‘I know! Three to four tablespoons is a lot,’ responded Ash.

Miranda blinked in confusion. She’d read the recipe. She would have noticed an unusual quantity like that. Suddenly, a visual image of that part of the recipe floated into her mind: ‘3/4 tbsp’.

’Three-quarters of a tablespoon,’ she emphasised. Ash’s face changed as he realised what he’d done.

So, would we make this dish again? Yes, because we’d like to know what it’s supposed to taste like! But the reason we’re still curious, rather than giving up completely, is that even with the excess pepper, this meal was delicious. It was incredibly simple (at least, it will be next time now that we know that the best way to grind the spices is with the mill attachment on the food processor – not a pepper grinder or a pestle and mortar) and incredibly tasty, made all the better when mopped up with some big, pillowy naan breads. Apparently this is typically a Sunday brunch meal in Pakistan, but we enjoyed it for dinner – and now, on Tuesday, are looking forward to enjoying the leftovers again tonight. We’re just hoping that the spices haven’t matured too much in the fridge!

Lamb nihari
Recipe from My Tamarind Kitchen

For the spice mix:
1 tbsp fennel seeds
2 large black cardamom
1 large cinnamon stick
10-12 green cardamom
2 star anise
1 1/2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
2 pieces of mace (we substituted ground mace)
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 tbsp poppy seed paste (grind in a pestle and mortar with a bit of hot water)
15 cloves
3/4 tbsp black peppercorns (that’s three-quarters)

For the lamb:
6 tbsp vegetable oil
1 inch fresh ginger, grated finely
1/2 tbsp fresh crushed garlic
1 1/2 tbsp Kashmiri chilli powder
1 tsp red chilli powder (we didn’t have Kashmiri chilli powder so just used regular chilli powder for both)
2 tsp salt
2kg leg of lamb chopped into 5-6 pieces with marrow exposed
1 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp wholemeal flour
About 8-10 cups water

For condiments:
Chopped coriander leaves
Julienned ginger
Finely chopped green chillis
Fried onions
Lemon wedges

1. Heat the oil in a very big pot and fry the ginger and garlic until the raw smell disappears.
2. Add the lamb and fry until the meat is sealed.
3. Add red chilli powder, salt and spice mix (saving 3 tsp for condiment). Fry until the spices are fragrant (if it sticks, add a splash of water as you go).
4. Add the Kashmiri chilli powder and fry until the meat is evenly coated with the spices. Top with about 8-10 cups of water or until the meat is submerged.
5. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook, covered, for 45 minutes to an hour. Keep checking that the meat is not over-boiling.
6. After about an hour, take about a cup of the liquid out of the pot and mix it with the flour. Add to the pot and stir in evenly. Add more water if needed, cover and cook on a very low flame for 2 hours, or until the meat falls off the bone.
7. Serve hot topped with whichever condiments take your fancy and mop up the juices with naans!
Serves 6.

Browning meat

Cooking nihari

Nihari dinner


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