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Nalli Nihari

Prepare authentic Pakistani nalli nihari by simmering lamb shanks with homemade nihari masala and aromatics for a soothing comfort meal that’s perfect for special gatherings and cozy dinners at home. For another variation, try nihari with tender beef shank.

Nalli nihari on a plate.

What is Nalli Nihari?

Nalli nihari is a treasured Pakistani dish. Simmer lamb or beef shanks with marrow-filled leg bones along with onions and aromatics until the meat is tender. Serve the shank meat and nalli in the velvety and robustly flavored salan it cooks in – perfect for sopping up with bread like naan, chapati, or roti.

The History of Nihari

‘Nihari’ comes from the Arabic word ‘nahar,’ which means morning. In the past, households would simmer nihari overnight so that the slow-cooked stew would be ready for a hearty breakfast the next day. 

Ingredients You’ll Need

  • Nihari Masala: I prefer to use homemade nihari masala. The ginger and garlic cooks with warm spices like coriander, ginger, red chili powder, cumin, turmeric, fennel, and salt. If you are short on time, use store-bought masala; you can find it online or at your local Asian or Indian market. My favorite is Shan Nihari Masala, and I use about ¼ of the packet for mild, and more if you prefer a spicier nalli nihari.
  • Mutton:Nalli, the shank part of mutton or beef containing bone marrow, adds gelatin and fat to make the stew savory and delicious. Some versions, like paya nihari, use trotters and nalli to make the stew.
  • Nalli: Nalli, the shank portion of mutton or beef containing bone marrow, adds gelatin and fat to make the stew savory and delicious. Some versions, like paya nihari, use trotters and nalli to make the stew.
  • Garnish: Fresh toppings are a tasty part of the nihari experience; I serve mine with caramelized onions, ginger, green chiles, and lemon wedges.
Toppings for nihari on a plate.

How to Make Nalli Nihari

These images show how to prepare nalli nihari in the Instant Pot, but you can also use the stovetop instructions in the recipe card below.

Step 1: Warm the ghee in an Instant Pot on saute mode. Add the onions and saute until they caramelize and brown, for about 20-25 minutes.

Remove half of the onions using a slotted spoon and set them aside. Stir the garlic and ginger into the pot and cook for another minute.

Onions caramelizing in a pot.

Step 2: Combine the coriander powder, ginger powder, red chili powder, cumin, turmeric, fennel, and salt in a small bowl and stir them into the pot.

The nihari masala, onions, and garlic in a pot.

Step 3: Rinse the lamb shanks and transfer them to the Instant Pot. Fry them for 2-3 minutes until the color changes. Then, add 4-6 cups of water (just enough to cover the beef).

Nihari beef shanks nestled into the masala.

Step 4: Bring the pot to a boil on saute mode, then secure the lid and set it to manual high pressure for 45 minutes with a 15-minute natural release.

Fluid added to the pot with the beef shanks.

Step 5: Garnish with the reserved onions, cilantro, ginger, and green chilies.

Nalli nihari on a plate and topped with cilantro and ginger.

Expert Tips

  • Set aside 3-4 hours to slow cook the lamb or beef shanks or use a pressure cooker; this helps the meat become tender and extracts the marrow from the shank bones to thicken and flavor the stew.
  • The bone marrow or nalli acts like a natural thickening agent for nihari, but if you prefer a thicker stew, you can toast 1 cup of atta flour in a skillet. Then, combine it with 1 cup of warm water. Slowly add the flour mixture while stirring it into the nihari broth after cooking the beef or lamb; this will also give the nihari more of a signature brownish color.  

If you enjoy this meal, try one of these Pakistani recipes!  

A hand scooping the nalli nihari with bread.

Serving Suggestions

This savory meal is a popular breakfast meal, but mostly reserved for special occasions like Eid. Garnish nalli nihari with fresh cilantro, green chiles, and ginger. Pair the lamb shank stew with kachumber salad, naan, chapati, or roti.

What to do with the Leftovers

  • Refrigerate: Leftover nihari tastes better the next day! Store them in an airtight container; it will keep for 3-4 days.
  • Freeze: Let the dish cool and transfer it to a freezer-safe container or bag. Nalli nihari freezes for 2-3 months.
  • Thaw: Defrost the beef in the refrigerator overnight.
  • Reheat: Warm the leftovers on the stovetop or microwave, and enjoy!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between nalli and nihari?

Nalli refers to the bone marrow from the lamb or beef shank that provides the flavor and thickening the dish is known for, whereas nihari is the name given to the whole meal.

Why is it called nalli nihari?

Nalli nihari refers to slow-cooked bone marrow traditionally enjoyed as a morning meal. Nalli means bone marrow, and nihari refers to its early preparation as a breakfast dish.

What is nalli nihari made of?

Nalli nihari is a flavorful stew crafted from lamb or beef shanks filled with nalli. It cooks with spices, sautéed onions, ginger, and garlic. I make ours gluten-free, but the dish often includes a flour slurry for thickening.

Which meat is best for nihari?

It’s common to use lamb or goat in India, and Pakistani nihari often features bone-in lamb, goat, or beef shank.

More Beef Recipes:

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Nalli nihari on a plate and topped with cilantro and ginger.

Nalli Nihari

Tressa Jamil
Prepare authentic nalli nihari by simmering lamb shanks with homemade nihari masala and aromatics for a soothing comfort meal.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 4 hours 30 minutes
Total Time 4 hours 45 minutes
Course Dinner, Main Course
Cuisine Indian, Pakistani
Servings 6 Servings
Calories 373 kcal
Equipment
Ingredients
  
For the Homemade Nihari Masala:
For the Nihari:
  • 3 pounds lamb shanks
  • 4-6 cups water (enough to cover the shanks)
For the Toppings:
  • 4 – inch fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 4 green peppers, finely diced
Instructions
 

For the Instant Pot:

  • Warm the ghee in an Instant Pot on saute mode. Add the onions and saute until they caramelize and brown, for about 20-25 minutes. Remove half of the onions using a slotted spoon and set them aside. Stir the garlic and ginger into the pot and cook for another minute.
  • Combine the coriander powder, ginger powder, red chili powder, cumin, turmeric, fennel, and salt in a small bowl and stir them into the pot.
  • Rinse the lamb shanks and transfer them to the Instant Pot. Fry them for 2-3 minutes until the color changes. Then, add 4-6 cups of water (just enough to cover the beef).
  • Bring the pot to a boil on saute mode, then secure the lid and set it to manual high pressure for 45 minutes with a 15-minute natural release.
  • Garnish with the reserved onions, cilantro, ginger, and green chilies.

For the Stovetop:

  • Warm the ghee in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until they caramelize and brown, for about 20-25 minutes. Remove half of the onions using a slotted spoon and set them aside. Stir the garlic and ginger into the pot and cook for another minute.
  • Combine the coriander powder, ginger powder, red chili powder, cumin, turmeric, fennel, and salt in a small bowl and stir them into the pan.
  • Rinse the lamb shanks and transfer them to the Instant Pot. Fry them for 2-3 minutes until the color changes. Then, add 4-6 cups of water (just enough to cover the beef).
  • Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce the heat. Cover and cook for 3-4 hours.
  • Garnish with the reserved onions, cilantro, ginger, and green chilies.
Notes
Expert Tips:
  • Set aside 3-4 hours to slow cook the lamb or beef shanks or use a pressure cooker; this helps the meat become tender and extracts the marrow from the shank bones to thicken and flavor the stew.
  • The bone marrow or nalli acts like a natural thickening agent for nihari, but if you prefer a thicker stew, you can toast 1 cup of atta flour in a skillet. Then, combine it with 1 cup of warm water. Slowly add the flour mixture to the nihari broth after cooking the beef or lamb; this will also give the nihari more of a signature brownish color.  
Nutrition Disclosure:
  • The nutritional information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for professional advice.
Nutrition
Serving: 1 Serving | Calories: 373 kcal | Carbohydrates: 18 g | Protein: 22 g | Fat: 26 g | Saturated Fat: 14 g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1 g | Monounsaturated Fat: 5 g | Cholesterol: 48 mg | Sodium: 1181 mg | Potassium: 279 mg | Fiber: 5 g | Sugar: 6 g | Vitamin A: 17 IU | Vitamin C: 12 mg | Calcium: 5 mg | Iron: 11 mg
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