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Pakistani Slow-Cooked Lamb Stew

This spicy and intriguing dish is perfect for a snowy day or any time you need some hearty comfort food. The rich caramelized onions and lamb are topped with bright cilantro and citrus flavors. The lamb benefits from a long slow cooking time (5 - 6 hours), so break out your favorite heavy dutch oven. You could also easily do this is a slow cooker as well, if you're not going to be home all day.
Servings: 4


For the Garam Masala

  • 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 3 green cardamom pods
  • 1 black cardamom pod optional
  • 1 whole star anise
  • 1 stick 2 - 3" cinnamon

For the Lamb (Nihari)

  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 medium onion very thinly sliced
  • 2 - 3 good-sized lamb shanks
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne
  • 2-4 cloves garlic mashed into a paste
  • 1 3" piece of ginger, peeled )1" mashed into a paste, 2" julienned, for serving)
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter melted
  • Chopped cilantro
  • lime wedges
  • minced chilis
  • naan bread
  • kosher salt to taste


  • First make the garam masala. Puree poppy seeds and 1 tablespoon water in a spice grinder into a paste; transfer to a small bowl. Grind remaining spices into a powder; stir into the poppy seed paste.

Make the lamb (Nihari)

  • Heat the oil and onion in a 6 quart saucepan (large enough to later hold the lamb) over medium heat. Once the onion starts to soften, lower the heat to medium low and cook until the onion is caramelized and a little bit crisp around the edges. This will take about half an hour. Once the onions are done, remove them with a slotted spoon and place them on a plate lined with paper towel, to absorb some of the excess oil. The onions will be used to garnish the lamb when you serve it. Discard all but 1/4 cup oil from the pan (reserve it for another use, if you like)
  • Season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper. Brown the lamb in the same pot over medium to medium-high heat. This will take about 20 minutes to do all sides well.
  • Once the lamb is browned, stir in the garam masala, the cayenne, garlic and ginger pastes, and about a teaspoon of salt. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Add 3 cups water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low/medium-low and cook covered until the lamb is falling off the bone, 5 - 6 hours. (Conversely you could transfer the whole shebang to your slow cooker now and cook on low for 6 or 7 hours)
  • Using tongs, transfer the lamb to a bowl or platter and cover well with foil to keep warm. Stir flour, butter and 1/4 cup water together in a small bowl then add the mixture to the pan. Cook until the juices are thickened about 15 minutes.
  • Pull the lamb off of the bone and using your hands or two forks, shred the meat. Return the lamb to the pan and stir to coat with the sauce.
  • Garnish the lamb with the reserved onions, cilantro, julienned ginger, cilantro and, if you like, lime wedges and/or chilis. Serve with cilantro brown rice and warm naan.


Adapted from Saveur Magazine