Lamb shanks were on sale last week at Whole Foods and I impulsively bought 2 thinking I would braise them with the usual white wine, garlic and rosemary and serve them over mashed potatoes. When I got home I realized there wouldn’t be time so made something else, something quicker: lamb burgers (they also had ground lamb on sale).
The next day as I pondered what to do with these lamb shanks I started looking through Sanjeev Kapoor’s excellent cookbook: How to Cook Indian. Most of lamb recipes in this book call for lamb stewing meat cut into chunks or ground Lamb except for 2, which called for Lamb shanks. Yes!
Nalli Nihari is very simple, with just a few ingredients and an easy preparation. However, you need to make your own nihari masala. You can actually buy it and I’m sure it would be fine, I just really enjoy making masala, gathering all the whole spices, slowly roasting them, grinding them up and then cooking with them. This one smelled particularly awesome.
Nalli Nihari is traditionally eaten by Muslim’s as their sehri – pre dawn meal – before a day of fasting during Ramadan. Nihari means fasting. This would be especially tasty served on mashed potatoes and topped with a fried egg, at any time of day.
Mr Kapoor tells us in the recipe that: The history of this dish reveals that it was a favorite breakfast of the Mughal royalty in Agra and that it is was served with Roti.
I served it with bread and think it is better than rice for this particular dish. All the delicious broth needs some good bread to sop it all up with!
Ramadan just started June 17th so as happenstance would have it this is very well-timed.
To make the Nihari Masala.
In a cast iron skillet over medium heat add: 1/4 cup of cumin seeds, 1/4 cup of fennel seeds, 12 dried red chilis (stemmed), 20 whole cloves, 5 green cardamom pods, 3 black cardamom pods, 25 whole black peppercorns, 1/4 cup white poppy seeds, 2 bay leaves, 1 blade of Mace, 2 Tablespoons of ground ginger, 1/2 Tablespoons of grated fresh nutmeg, and 4 or 5 cinnamon sticks (or bark).
Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Transfer to a spice grinder and grind to a fine powder (mine is an old hold coffee grinder so I did it in 3 or 4 batches).
* Dalai is available in Indian grocery stores, it’s roasted chana dal that is ground into a four. My local Indian shop was out so I just bought chana dal and roasted it for about 30 minutes at 350F, let it cooled then processed it in the Cusinart.When you have finished grinding the spices place in a fine sieve over a bowl and sift.In a large saucepan over medium high heat add: 2 tablespoons of Ghee or vegetable oil and 2 1/2 tablespoons nihari masala stir together and cook for 30 seconds then add two lamb shanks (about 2 pounds) that have been well seasoned with salt and pepper and are at room temperature. Brown for about 8-10 minutes.Add: 6 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 45 minutes or until the meat is very tender and easily comes off the bone.While the lamb is cooking in a large frying pan add: 2 tablespoons of non-flavored vegetable oil over high heat, when hot add 2-3 large red onions sliced into discs. Reduce heat to medium and cook until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.
When the lamb has cooked add the cooked onions and 1 Tablespoon of julienned fresh ginger. Simmer for 2 minutes.
In a small bowl add 2 Tablespoons of Atta to 6 Tablespoons of water and whisk until smooth then whisk into the Nalli Nihari. Simmer for 10 minutes, this will slightly thicken the broth. Mine ended up still be fairly thin, which was fine, but if you want it thicker add another tablespoon of flour.
Add the juice of 1 lemon and 1/2 teaspoon of salt or more as needed.
I let the mixture cool until I was able to handle the lamb shanks and removed all the meat from the bone, roughly chopped it up and put in back in the broth. It makes it easier to serve and allows you to feed 4-6 people with it along with bread and condiments.
Garnish with a generous handful of chopped cilantro.
I like to serve this with Cilantro chutney and Pineapple Raisin Chutney. Mango chutney would work just as well and Indian grocers usually have a great choice. Nan, roti, really any Indian bread is essential with this curry.