Nihari is a hearty Indian beef stew with large chunks of tender fall-apart beef shanks in a fragrant and mouth watering gravy. This is an authentic recipe, that is made easy for you and with tips to lighten it up while keeping it traditional.
Braised Beef Shank Stew
Nihari is a popular stew from the Indian subcontinent, that is made with shank meat and bones. This delicacy with its roots in the Mughlai cuisine is especially common in Pakistan, North India and parts of India with a larger Muslim population.
Traditionally, braised shanks were slow-cooked overnight with bones, onions and spices, turning it into a breakfast feast by morning. The meat is meltingly soft and falling apart into the rich and silky gravy. It is then devoured with fresh baked naan.
Although enjoyed year round, this beef stew can be a real treat in winter time. You can say that this braised beef shanks recipe is the Osso Buco of the orient!
Large chunks of fall-off-the bone tender beef shanks in a velvety rich gravy is a sure keeper. One of the easiest delicacies ever!
Beef Shanks, Bones, Onion, Oil, Spices, Ginger, Garlic, Whole Wheat Flour (Atta), Green Chilies, Cilantro
- Shank Meat: Most often, beef is used and that is my favorite for this recipe. But you can also use lamb, goat or even chicken. For chicken, use leg quarters.
- The beef shank meat is cut in large 3 inch pieces. Butchers from the Indian subcontinent and some halal meat shops are familiar with the Nihari meat cut. If you do not have access to such grocers, then try finding shank cross-cuts used for making the Italian Ossobuco.
- Do verify that it is shank meat, cut in large pieces, to get that famous texture and taste. Other cuts of meat can be used but will not give you the same result.
- Bones: Try to use marrow bones. Ask your butcher for some extra bones when you shop for meat shanks. It will give you the perfect Nihari taste. If not, try to use some bone broth as the cooking liquid. Adjust the amount of bones used, if the meat cuts already have some bone in it.
- Spices: There is a long list of spices used for making the spice blend. But you can make this in bulk for multiple uses.
- I rarely ever use ready made spice blends, but this stew is the only exception, where a small amount of the Popular Shaan Nihari mix can add an interesting taste sometimes. But use only a tiny bit along with the homemade spice blend, otherwise it is very hot.
- Durum Whole Wheat Flour: Typically the Indian whole wheat flour, also known as “atta” is used for this recipe. To make it gluten-free, use rice flour, chickpea flour or a combination of these flours with corn starch (3 parts rice or chickpea flour + 1 part corn starch).
Step By Step Overview
**Full recipe at the end of post.
- Roast and grind the spices.
- Sauté sliced onions until golden brown and set aside.
- Sear meat shanks in hot oil and at high heat. Add ginger, garlic and stir.
- Next, add spices, bay leaves and fried onions. Pour water and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat and let it simmer until meat is almost done.
- Make a thin paste with whole wheat flour (atta) and some cooled cooking liquid or water.
- Add the paste back to the stew gradually while stirring it quickly.
- Simmer the stew until meat is fall-apart tender and some oil trickles to the top. Discard bones and bay leaves.
- Serve the stew hot, topped with julienned ginger, chopped cilantro and with sliced green chilies and lemon wedges on the side.
- Dont let the long list of spices deter you. That is the only big effort in this recipe, and you can make it in bulk. The spices are available for a good price at Indian grocery stores or online.
- Brown the meat, onions, ginger garlic paste very well. Don’t skimp on the spices and other aromatics.
- Do not add the flour directly to the cooking pot. Cool the cooking liquid and use that to make a thin paste with the flour and add it back to the stew to thicken it (like making a thin custard).
- Use sufficient oil to cook the recipe. Spoon off the excess from the surface.
- Do not use too much of the branded spice mix. It is simply too hot and salty. You can make terrific Nihari using only the homemade spice blend too. Adding a little bit of that branded mix will give it a nice touch sometimes.
Can I use Garam Masala?
No, garam masala will not work for this recipe. You will need the special spice blend to get that ultimate taste.
How to Serve Nihari?
Nihari is fantastic with fresh baked naan. We also have a hearty whole wheat naan recipe for you. Try it with parathas or our easy skillet flatbreads. Add some fresh salads or side dishes: salad shirazi, aloo gobi.
Plating Nihari properly is important. Place the large chunks of meat in a wide serving dish and then pour some gravy around it. Make sure that the meat chunks are visible. Drizzle some drops of stew oil on top.
Garnish with fresh julienned ginger and cilantro. Serve sliced green chilies and lemon wedges on the side, to be used as per taste. You can top with some fried onions too.
How To Store
Leftovers can be stored for 4 to 5 days in the refrigerator. This stew is very freezer friendly. Make a lot of it, portion it in Tupperware and freeze it for later. Thaw and reheat on stove top. Add some water to adjust consistency while reheating.
Nihari tastes even better the next day!
This is an egg free, soy free, dairy free and nut free stew. Make it gluten free by replacing durum wheat flour with rice flour, chickpea flour or a combination of these as suggested under “Ingredients” above.
Beef is an excellent source of high quality protein, some B vitamins (Niacin, B12, B6), zinc, phosphorus, selenium, and is also a good source of iron.
I would recommend choosing grass fed beef as it is a better source of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) and omega-3 fats. And also for many other healthy benefits.
However, include red meat only in moderate amounts in your diet. And you may opt for chicken for an equally delectable Nihari.
This stew does use quiet a bit of oil for its preparation. But much of the oil will surface on the top of the cooked gravy. Spoon off the oil and enjoy the beef stew. It is still going to be very tasty. You don’t need layers of oil on the top for a great Nihari.
More Meat Recipes
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Nihari (Beef Shank Curry)
Nihari Spice Mix
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon shah jeera black cumin seeds, see note
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 cinnamon stick 3 inches
- 6 green cardamom
- ½ teaspoon cloves
- 1 black cardamom
- 1 blade mace
- 1 star anise small
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon black seeds optional
- ⅓ cup olive oil see note
- 1 onion large, thinly sliced
- 2 pounds beef shanks cut in 3 inch pieces, Nihari style cut, see note
- 1 pound bones marrow bones preferably
- 1 tablespoon grated ginger
- 1 tablespoon grated garlic
- 1 tablespoon paprika use Kashmiri chili powder for more hot
- 1½ teaspoons chili powder use Kashmiri red chili powder for milder
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- 1½ teaspoons salt adjust per taste
- 4 tablespoons Nihari spice blend from above
- ½ tablespoon Shaan Nihari spice blend optional, reduce chili powder and salt if using this
- 2 bay leaves
- 8 cups water or bone broth
- ⅓ cup Atta Durum whole wheat flour, increase to ½ cup for thicker stew
- 2 tablespoons julienned ginger
- 2 tablespoons cilantro
- 1 lemon cut into wedges
- 1 green chili pepper sliced (Jalapeño - milk, Serrano - Hot)
- Fried Onions
- Roast whole spices in a preheated cast iron skillet until fragrant. Allow the spices to cool and grind into fine powder.
- Heat oil in a large cooking pot at medium high. Add sliced onions, sauté until light golden brown and set it aside.
- Rinse the shank meat pieces and pat dry using paper towels. Then rinse the bones and set it aside.
- In the same oil, sear the meat shanks at high heat and on all sides. Add ginger, garlic and stir couple minutes until the raw flavor disappears.
- Next add paprika, chili powder, turmeric, salt, Nihari spice blends, bay leaves and stir. Pour 6 cups of water and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat and let it simmer for 2 to 3 hours. Add more water as needed.
- Add the paste back to the stew slowly while stirring it quickly to prevent lump formation. (Tip: Like making a thin custard)
- Let the beef stew simmer for about 45 minutes until the meat is fall-apart tender (breaks easily with a wooden spoon) and the oil gradually trickles to the surface. The gravy should be thick but of pouring consistency. Discard the bones and bay leaves.
- Add a bit more flour or liquid to adjust the consistency as needed. Nihari will thicken as it will cool, so turn off the heat when it reaches about 80 percent of desired thickness.
- Serve the beef stew hot, topped with julienned ginger, chopped cilantro and with naan bread. On the side, serve sliced green chilies and lemon wedges to be used as per preference.
- Oil: Excess oil can be spooned off the surface after cooking the stew, as per preference.
- Meat: Beef is commonly used. Other options are lamb and goat. For chicken, use leg quarters. The shank meat is cut in 3 inch pieces. Other meat cuts can be used but will not give the authentic taste. Indian subcontinent/Halal meat stores are familiar with the Nihari meat cut. If not, try shank cross-cuts used for making the Italian Ossobuco.
- Bones: Adjust the amount of bones used, if the meat cuts already have some bone in it. Try using bone broth, if bones aren’t available.
- Onions: Use a mandolin slicer for thinly sliced onions.
- Paprika: I use this for its nice red color but low heat. Use Kashmiri red chili powder instead of that for the same color but more heat.
- Chili Powder: I used Kashmiri chili powder as it is mild. If you prefer it hot, then use regular chili powder.
- Branded spice mixes may include salt and chili powder. If they are used to substitute the homemade spice blend in the recipe, then the salt and chili powder should be adjusted accordingly.
- Make Ahead: The spice blend can be made in bulk and stored up to 6 months.
- Storage: Nihari tastes better the next day. Refrigerate leftovers for 5 to 6 days. Freeze Nihari in small portions for couple months. If stew is too thick when reheating, then add some water to adjust consistency.
- Slow Cooker: Nihari is one of the best recipes to make in a slow cooker. It will turn out perfect. At low setting cook for 6 to 8 hours; at high setting cook for 5 to 6 hours. Adjust times as per your slow cooker.
- Shajeera: These may be referred to as black cumin or black caraway seeds in Indian stores. The labeling is not consistent. Ask your Indian grocer for “shahjeera”.
- Seasoned Oil Drizzle: For a nice red color on top, heat some oil and turn off the stove. Then stir in paprika or Kashmiri chili powder. Drizzle this oil on top.