Nalli Nihari - When Hubby Cooks!

'When Hubby Cooks' was a random line I used for one of the first recipes I posted that my husband Roshan had prepared - now it has almost become a monthly series of recipes that he lovingly creates with his expert hands much to the delight of the mouths he feeds at home (and also the readers who end up trying his recipes). Well, thanks to Roshan for putting his passion to good use - our Sunday meals have become a lot more fun and our dining table is a place for great meal time conversations - all revolving around the dish of the day and cuisines of the world.

Well, although you may have heard of the Nalli Nihari did you know that this dish is the National Dish of Pakistan? Our neighbouring country that is always at logger heads with ours and is in the eye of a storm almost all the time is also a place where great food and great music comes from. Beautiful women too :-) Just recently we were introduced a little more to their food culture through an article in BBC Good Food magazine's September edition and that made us explore some more of Pakistan's food heritage via the internet. Being primarily a muslim country, Pakistan is famous for their delectable meat dishes especially mutton - which also happens to be our favourite (mine at least) and I am always up for a new experiment with this meat. Mutton is often synonymous with goat meat in India as that's what is available most times at our local butchers. So since the mister had picked up some extra portion of nalli (marrow bones) on his last visit, he began to search for a good recipe to put it to use.

Apparently Nihari was eaten early in the morning during the Mughal era and was a breakfast dish. The word Nihari is derived from the term 'Nihar' which means 'morning after sunrise'. Nihari was often cooked overnight or sometimes even buried underground while it cooked so the resultant dish would have very tender morsels of meat. Nihari was prepared with either beef or mutton although the leg of lamb is more popularly served today.

When Roshan started preparing the dish without using the pressure cooker I was rather tensed. Would we get our afternoon meal on time? I asked him, knowing that here in India the red meat available takes forever to cook without at least the partial use of a pressure cooker. But surprisingly the whole dish - from start to finish - was done under 50 mins or so and was devoured in less than 5 mins. A man who does not like too much of garam masala (blend of spices) in his food was actually making some from scratch - when I saw this, I rolled my eyes and made a quick exit out of the kitchen. You see, we are opposites in our nature and while I totally adore the aroma of fresh garam masala he detests it. Anyway, I waited for the final dish to make its appearance. It quickly got plated and a few hurried clicks later made it to the dining table. The combination of Nalli Nihari with piping hot plain parathas (we buy the ready to fry variety from Al-Kabeer) was out of the world. I wish we had some home made kuboos or a more traditional accompaniment to go with it. As each of us took bites of the paratha dipped in this luxurious curry, we were quickly transported into a different level of gastronomic bliss - nirvana, if you please. Succulent pieces of meat drenched in an aromatic spice rich gravy - a delicacy waiting to be experienced, enjoyed and loved.

The most mind blowing part was the subtlety of the garam masala - not overpowering in any way, yet bold enough to make its presence felt and lend that unique taste and aroma to the meat and make Nalli Nihari what it is.

Verdict: This whole dish was so melt-in-the-mouth and finger licking good that we didn't need any side dish or accompaniment to the meal. I am also sure that we may have even over eaten if we didn't run out of parathas that day. By the way, this dish tastes just as fabulous with simple steamed rice. If you wish you can use ready made Nihari masala powder available in stores. However, I strongly believe that a freshly made blend will lend so much more aroma and flavour to your dish. So go right ahead and make it and tell us how you liked it!

(And please don't ask me if you can make this with chicken - it would be in my opinion, sacrilege!)

Nalli Nihari
Prep time: 10 mins | Cook time 45mins (approx - depends on the quality/tenderness of meat) | Serves 3-4

Ingredients -
To make the Nihari Masala powder:
Method -
1. Dry roast all the each of the ingredients for the Nihari Masala powder and grind it to a fine powder.
2. In a large heavy bottomed pan heat the ghee and fry the onions till they are well browned. Remove and keep aside till required.
3. To the same ghee, add the lamb and fry along with half of the nihari masala power till the meat becomes nice and brown. Add half the fried onions, salt to taste and 4 cups of water and cook till the meat is tender (should take about 45 minutes).  
4. Add the lamb stock, remaining nihari masala and fried onions.
5. Make a thick paste of wheat flour with 5 tablespoon of water (make sure there are no lumps) and add this to the lamb and continue to simmer till the gravy thickens.
6. Sprinkle lemon juice and garnish with ginger strips and coriander leaves and serve hot with plain parathas (made of maida) or Kerala Parota/Plain Rice/Pulao/Bread

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