There were days when you could not care for any home cooked food because you knew of the treasures you could find in the food streets of Pakistan. Nothing can beat the colourful aromas, the smoky essence and hustle bustle of Pakistani bazaars and food quarters. Nothing quite like sitting on the roadside and consuming a hot chicken tikka fresh off the skewer with steaming naans, kachumaar salad and a bottle of Pepsi cola. Nothing compares to such simple culinary perfection.
My country is 65 years old on 14th August 2012. I dedicate this post to Pakistan, a place I will always call home. One hears of many negative stories, denying them would be ridiculous but highlighting the beauty of my country would be sensible and one positive thing I can do sitting from a far. Being born and brought up in Pakistan, I recollect a very happy, safe and positive childhood and one can say things have changed, but one thing that will never change is that Pakistan will always boast a wonderfully generous people, with smiles in their heart and hospitality in their very fabric. I grew up with people who would give you their last meal rather than see you starve. Food has always played an important role in Pakistani’s lives. There is one thing we all celebrate collectively and that is our love for food, feeding others and cherishing what we have.
I remember one incident well. I was visiting the home of the lady who used to clean our home. I did so just to keep her happy and implored that I did not want anything to eat. On arrival, I witnessed something that has been deeply embedded in my heart. She had a huge meal prepared for me – she had gone all out. Nihari being one, with fresh naans and every single condiment you could imagine. To think that meat is the most expensive food in Pakistan, and I found out later had spent her month’s wages on this meal. She sat there and politely demanded I ate before she did – and at the end still refused to eat until we had all eaten. These are the people of Pakistan.
I don’t wish to ignore political issues, neither do I ever highlight them. These stories are about Pakistan, the food I grew up with and the memories that make me a proud Pakistani. The most important thing that makes a nation is it’s people, culture and food is the glue that holds that together. Forget that and there is nothing, fail to highlight it and I would not be doing justice to my country.
On this Independence Day, I hope and pray for my country and I will remain dedicated to promoting Pakistani cuisine, Pakistani food and culture as a separate developed one from any other. I share with you a recipe that is a quindessential Pakistani one, lamb Nihari – a tantalising sensory experience and once savoured, is never forgotten. This in my mind this is Pakistan’s signature dish. It’s warm, hearty and nuturing like the soil of my country and aromatic and rich like the culture of Pakistan.
My best memories are of eating this from food streets in Karachi and even though my recipe is as close as you can get to the real deal, nothing will ever be quite like sitting on a roadside dhaba and savouring this celebration of the flavours of Pakistani in one dish.
2-3 hours! (but it’s worth it!)
Garam masala mix for Nihari:
Grind together in a spice or coffee grinder:
1 tbsp aniseed or fennel
2 large black cardamom
1 large cinnamon quill
10-12 green cardamom
2 star anise
1 1/2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
2 pieces of mace
1/2 tsp of nutmeg
2 tbsp poppy seed paste (grind in a mortar and pestle with a bit of hot water)
3/4 tbsp black peppercorn
4 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp ghee
1 inch fresh ginger, grated finely
1/2 tbsp fresh crushed garlic
1 1/2 tbsp Kashimri red chilli powder
1 tsp red chilli powder
2 tsp salt, or to taste
2 kg leg of lamb chopped into 5-6 pieces with marrow exposed, or 3 large lamb shanks, cut into 2, marrow exposed
1 tbsp plain flour, sifted
1 tbsp wholemeal flour, sifted (Atta flour, used to make chappati’s)
water – about 8-10 cups, enough to cover the meat
2 cups chopped coriander leaves
2 inch piece of ginger, julienned
4 thin green chilli’s, chopped finely
2 cups of deep fried onions, (fry about 10 medium onions until medium brown and drain)
4 large lemons, made into wedges
A large deep saucepan with a tight lid
1. Heat oil and ghee together (on medium heat/flame) and fry the ginger and garlic until the raw smell leaves the pan. Then add in the lamb and fry until the meat is sealed. Add red chilli powder, salt and the garam masala (save 3 tsp as condiment) as prepared above.
2. Fry until the masala is fragrant and if it sticks to the pan add a splash of water as you go. Now add the Kashimiri chilli powder and the meat is coated evenly with all the masalas. Top the meat with about 8-10 cups of water or until the meat is submerged.
3. Turn the heat to medium low and cook covered, for about 45 minutes to an hour, keep checking to see that the meat is not over boiling. After about an hour, take about a cup of the liquid out of the meat and add the sifted and added the plain and Atta flour to this. Now pour it into the main saucepan and stir in evenly. Add about 1 cup of water, cover and cook on a very low fire for 2 hours, or until the meat falls off the bones.
4. Serve hot topped with coriander, remaining garam masala and finely julienned ginger – also serve with additional chopped coriander leaves, julienned ginger, chopped green chillies, lemon wedges and deep fried onions in small bowls! – and enjoy with naans!