01 Jun, Thursday
39° C

Nihari: Desi Comfort Food

Keeping in mind my yearly resolutions, I spent 2018 being mindful of my eating habits. However, my commitment to eating clean often left me with limited food options. In order to turn this grueling endeavor into something rewarding, I had to resort to eating a few traditional favorites. Yes, desi food can be surprisingly healthy. A meal that I find myself going back to is Nihari.

Initially, I found myself constantly losing the battle against my stomach and heart upon seeing my family and friends relishing desi foods on weekends and at gatherings. When it became hard for me to ignore the pleas of my abdomen, I decided to treat it with some kindness. I reconnoitered my much-loved foods in hopes of finding one that allowed me a little indulgence without falling off the health trail completely. I was overjoyed when my search led me to discover nihari as a cuisine worth considering.

Nihari is more than just a lip-smacking meal, it loads your plate with a host of health benefits. The revelation, that it was created under the study of Hikmat at least a 100 years back in Delhi was quite startling for me. This concoction was heralded for its curative impact on many cold-induced health complaints, such as sinus, cold, and congestion. Owing to its energy boosting properties, nihari persisted as a staple meal for feeding the labor class through the Mughal reign. Nihari is originally an Arabic word, which might explain why it’s considered a breakfast item. Nihari was transported to Pakistan by the refugees from Delhi after partition.

Nihari is traditionally cooked with beef shanks. However, over the years, nihari nurtured under the innovative practices of the cooks and now you can also treat your taste buds with mutton, lamb, or chicken nihari. The cooking method of nihari is predominantly ancient. The chefs use large vessels to make it and left it for simmering over a low flame for about 6-8 hours. This low and slow cooking of meat retains its natural juices, keeps essentials nutrients and gently dissolves the connective tissues of meat. This cookery style also allows every ingredient to share its unique flavor, resulting in a thick aromatic gravy when done right.

The red meat in nihari is an optimal source of protein, B vitamins, phosphorus, iron, and zinc. Its presence makes nihari an excellent choice for the bodybuilders looking for growth and strengthening of muscles. It is also favorable for individuals with bone fractures and can help prevent osteoarthritis as it functions to maintain bones, repair tissues, and boost immunity.

The spices that play a vital role in bestowing nihari its sole flavor are too chock-full of healthy amalgams. They have been used since ages to relieve aches and deliver some promising anti-inflammatory effects. Their disease-fighting antioxidant properties prevent the occurrence of a host of diseases including, cancer and diabetes and are believed to help fight off infections, purify blood and aid fat loss.



Oil 1¼ cup

Beef shank (with bones) 5 lbs

Salt to taste

Garam masala powder 3 tsp

Red Chilli powder 3 tsp

Coriander powder 4 tsp

Ginger Paste 1½ tbsp

Garlic Paste 1½ tbsp

Turmeric powder 1½ tsp

White flour 6 tbsp


Nihari Masala

Peepli 2 sticks

Coriander seeds 2 ½ tbsp

Mace powder ½ tsp

Nutmeg powder ½ tsp

Bay leaves 2

Cinnamon sticks 2

Black cardamoms 4

Cloves 20

Green cardamoms 10

Cumin seeds 1 tsp

Black peppercorns 1 tbsp

Fennel seeds 4 tbsp

Anise seeds ¼ tsp


For Garnishing

Green chilies





In a large vessel, heat the oil and braise meat for few minutes on a high flame. It’s always a good idea to keep a close watch on it though. Once you’ve got a bit of color on it, add salt, red chili powder, turmeric, garam masala, coriander powder, and garlic and ginger paste as per the specified amount. Let it cook for a while before pouring 10 glasses of water in. It might sound like a lot but hold that though because we’re not done yet. Let it cook for a while on low heat, when the color deepens, take four glass of water and dissolve flour in it. Add this to the meat. By now the meat should be completely submerged in liquid. If it isn’t, add more water! Let it boil before you add finely powdered nihari masala. Now turn the flame low and let it simmer and brew for at least 7 hours. By the end of this, you should have a perfect nihari for your enjoyment. Garnish and serve with the hot naan from the tandoor.

I never knew our very own traditional nihari could have hidden a treasure of health benefits. Gaining stellar health without fuming our taste buds is not a fantasy anymore, thanks to the old Mughal Hakeem Sahib.