This Easy Slow Cooker Nihari recipe takes less than 30 minutes of prep time but does not compromise on the authentic taste of this traditional Pakistani Beef Stew! Layers of flavor in every bite!
Did I just use the words ‘easy’ and ‘Nihari’ in the same title?
Yes, I went there.
I like to take advantage of modern-day amenities without compromising on taste. I want the authentic stuff you get at restaurants on trips to Chicago’s Sabri Nihari or even Lahore’s Waris Nihari House. Yet I don’t want to spend my entire day making it happen. Speaking of day, the word “nihari” comes from the root Arabic word “nahar”, meaning “day”. This dish is called Nihari because 18th century Mughals ate it at daybreak.
Did you notice Nihari is a dish that has restaurants named after it? That means it’s kind of a big deal.
Don’t be intimidated though. I sure was. That’s why it took me three years to even attempt it. But once I made it, I cursed myself for waiting so long.
Here is what I would tell my former, nihari-noob self to help her take on this intimidating but actually quite painless endeavor.
- Nihari is all about the spices. Get your hands on as many of them as you can; and if you leave some out, that’s okay too. It will still taste great.
- Traditionally, atta flour, which is typically used to make rotis, is added to thicken the curry. I highly recommend you use this for an authentic taste.
- The key to a great nihari is intentional depth of flavor. Deeply brown onions, fresh spices infusing the oil, meat that is properly braised..all this contributes to the revered taste of nihari.
- If you try to thicken the gravy by adding in flour, it will result in clumps. To avoid this, remove some of the nihari liquid (using water dilutes the taste), allow it to cool, and then whisk in the nihari liquid. You’ll add this slurry to the nihari after the initial cooking has completed.
Using Pre-made Nihari Masala
Many people use the Nihari masala powder that you can find at most Indian/Pakistani stores to prepare this dish because (as mentioned in my first point) it demands so many spices. Use too much of the powder (like the whole packet as the box suggests) and you’ll end up having Nihari that tastes a bit manufactured and a lot like your fellow Pakistani neighbor’s Nihari because they used the same powder. Use just a bit and it’ll give your dish an extra oomph and good color. If you choose not to use it, just adjust the rest of the spices listed.
I’ve had many questions about using *just* the spice mix. I’m not above using pre-made spice mixes, but I prefer not to use the suggested quantities because it can taste quite harsh. Plus, the flavors are just more pronounced and deep when you use fresh spices. Keep in mind that you’ll need to adjust the salt/spice level depending on which brand and how much masala you use.
What Cut of Meat to Use for Nihari
I use pre-cut beef stew meat, which is essentially boneless beef that comes from the front shoulder (chuck) or rear muscle (round). If the type of stew meat is specified, I look for shoulder, as I’ve found it to be more tender.
Also, try to find good quality beef. The more marbled-looking it is, the better. Using a slow cooker will help infuse the meat with the spices while getting it as tender as possible.
This recipe doesn’t require bones, but using bone-in meat or bones alongside the meat will enhance the flavor (it’s absolutely essential in the Instant Pot version). If you do use bones, you would need around 1/3 lb extra weight in bones.
How to make Gluten-Free Nihari
After several experiments, I figured out how to make the BEST gluten-free version of nihari. You simply dry roast brown rice flour for 3-4 minutes on low-medium heat and use it as a substitute for atta flour. Dry roasting it deeply enhances the flavor and pretty much replicates the atta version. Try it with my gluten-free no-yeast naan!
How to serve Nihari
Nihari is typically served as a main dinner course or brunch dish. It’s generally served with naan or sheermal and topped with garnishings.
Which brings me to my last tip! Don’t forget the garnishings. Chop up some lemons, ginger, cilantro and green chilies. They bejewel your Nihari while enhancing the spicy, tangy, and crunchy factor.
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If you try this recipe, I’d love to hear from you! You can let me know in the comments, message me, or tag me on Instagram. I always love hearing from you! Thank you!
Easy Slow Cooker Nihari (Pakistani Beef Stew)
- 1/2 piece of a small star anise
- 1-2 small bay leaves
- 1 inch piece cinnamon stick
- 2-3 whole cloves ground into a powder using a mortar and pestle
- 2-3 green cardamom pods seeds removed and ground into a powder using a mortar and pestle
- 1/2 tsp fennel seeds ground into a powder using a mortar and pestle
- 1/2 tsp paprika powder
- 1/2 tsp coriander powder
- 1/2 tsp cumin powder
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1/4-1/2 tsp Asian red chilli powder or cayenne
- 1/4 tsp crushed red chilli flakes
- 1/4 tsp black pepper powder
- 1/8 tsp garlic powder (optional)
- pinch nutmeg
- 1/2 tbsp Nihari Masala Powder
- crispy fried onions
- 1 inch piece ginger julienned
- 1 lemon sliced
- 1/4 bunch fresh cilantro chopped
- 1-2 green chillies chopped
- Heat a medium pot over medium-high heat. Heat oil and ghee and add the whole spices.
- Add onion and sauté until golden, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and continue to sauté until the raw smell disappears, about 30 seconds.
- Add beef and stir-fry for about 5 minutes or until it changes color.
- Lower the heat and add the powdered spices and salt and sauté for about 20 seconds.
- Carefully pour this beef mixture into your Crockpot or slow cooker.
- Add the water and stir to mix. Cook on low for 8-10 hours (preferable) or high for 6-7 hours, or until the beef is fall-apart tender. Cooking times will vary depending on your meat and slow cooker.
- Toward the end of your cooking time, remove your whole spices and take out a cup of the liquid of the Nihari into a bowl. Let it cool a little by adding an ice cube to it. Place the atta in another bowl. Bit by bit, add the Nihari liquid to the atta to form a smooth slurry. Slowly add this slurry back into the crockpot while stirring to prevent clumps. Let it cook for another 30-45 minutes. Serve hot with the garnishing and naan or sheermal.
**Traditionally, atta is used to thicken the curry. I highly recommend you use it for an authentic taste. For a gluten-free option, see notes!