Here is a very Muslim recipe, frequently eaten as a holiday breakfast dish after prayers. At the Lahore Kebab House it is offered in the evenings as well, to a very grateful clientèle. While I was watching this dish being prepared, I was wondering what spices they would use to give the distinctive nihari flavour. Much to my surprise, I saw the chef open a packet of spice mix and add it to the pot! In fact in many South Asian households this is what people do, especially given the pace of life. You may do so if you wish, using a whole packet of nihari spice mix. However, I find it is just as easy to grind the spices myself and that is what I have done for this recipe. In many Muslim homes, nihari is reserved for special occasions, and much enjoyed with naans or other flatbreads.
- 4 lamb shanks, total weight about 2 kg (4 lb 8 oz)
- salt, to taste
- 120 ml (4 fl oz) olive or sunflower oil
- 15 cm (6 inch) piece root ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 1 whole nutmeg, crushed into smaller pieces
- 1 tbsp mace blades
- 2 tbsp fennel seeds
- 3 cassia leaves or bay leaves, shredded
- 2.5 cm (1 inch) cassia bark or cinnamon stick, broken into small pieces
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 1 tsp nigella seeds
- 1 tsp cloves
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 45 g (scant 1¾ oz) unsalted butter
- 1 medium onion, sliced into rings
- 1 tbsp paprika
- 1 tsp hot chilli powder
- 2 tbsp wholemeal flour or chapati flour
- 4 tbsp fine julienne of peeled root ginger
- 2–3 hot green chillies, finely sliced
- 1 handful of coriander leaves
- lemon wedges
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
First there is a little preparation to do. Place the lamb shanks on a plate and rub with ½ tsp of salt and a little of the oil. Set aside. Now put the ginger in a blender with 5 tsp of water and process to a fine paste. Set aside separately. Place the nutmeg, mace, fennel seeds, cassia leaves, cassia bark, ground ginger, peppercorns, nigella, cloves and cumin seeds in a clean coffee grinder or spice grinder and grind to a fine powder. Set this aside, too.
Preheat the oven to 160ºC/325ºF/gas mark 3.
Put a large flameproof casserole dish with a tight-fitting lid, about 30 cm in diameter, over a medium heat and add the butter. When it has melted, sprinkle in the onion and fry for about 5 minutes, until brown. Remove with a slotted spoon.
Now pour the remaining oil into the pan. When it’s hot, put in the shanks two at a time and, turning with a pair of tongs, brown each side for 2 minutes. Remove. Repeat with the other shanks.
Working quickly, reduce the heat to low and add the ginger paste. Stir continuously for 4 or 5 minutes until light brown. Then add the paprika and chilli powder and stir for 1 minute, followed by the ground spice mixture and 1½ tsp of salt. Mix well thoroughly to infuse the oil. Add the browned onions, stir, then pour in 1.2 litres of warm water. Mix well, then arrange the shanks in the pan. Cover and place the casserole in the centre of the oven. Leave to cook for 3 hours, basting and turning the shanks every 30 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and uncover. Carefully lift out the shanks into a large, warmed serving bowl. Spoon off as much excess oil from the cooking liquid as possible. Check the sauce for seasoning and adjust as necessary. Set the casserole over a low heat.
Mix the flour slowly with 4 tbsp of water to achieve a thin paste. Stir the paste into the sauce, cooking for 5-6 minutes to thicken, then pour it over the meat in the serving bowl.
Serve all four garnishes in little bowls on the table for diners to add to the nihari as they like.