Tuesday, October 20, 2009
I love nihari. Nihari is tradionally a breakfast food. "Nahaar" means day in Arabic, the language of origin of the word nihari. Nihari is a food to start the day with, a morning food to give energy throughout the day. It is eaten with naan in most places, but in Indian Hyderabad it is eaten with the deliciously light and flakey Hyderabadi style paratha. (Nihari recipes vary by region, and niharis of Hyderabad are a bit different than North Indian-Pakistani niharis as well.) Nihari is tradionally made with beef in North India. These days, there are mutton and chicken niharis as well. Nihari is said to be originally from the city of Old Dehli, but outside of its birthplace of India, in neighboring Pakistan, nihari has taken on a life of its own as one of the signature dishes of Pakistani cuisine. In India it is hard to find a dish of nihari at a restaurant, usually a specialty nihari restaurant, after late morning. It is still considered a breakfast food. Nihari is expensive to make at home for common folk, so it is very often bought by the plate at specialty nihari houses. In Pakistan, some people do keep the breakfast tradition. But nihari is more often consumed at any time of day. It is a festive and rich dish associated with Ramadan and Eid.
I will say it again. I love nihari. But, I have been interested in cooking on the lighter side of Pakistani and Indian cuisine, so I had been trying to create a perfect, full bodied chicken nihari since chicken is much lower in fat and calories than beef. I have experimented a bit with online recipes. I have finally settled with a delicious self-created recipe which I am very proud of, and which I hope you will like.
1 whole skinless chicken, bone in, cut into 12 pieces
1/2 lb of chicken stock cuts, such as necks, backs, and wings
1 onion finely sliced (one American yellow onion or 2-3 small desi pink onions)
2-3 Indian bay leaves (tez patta)
3 pieces of whole black cardamom
1 inch piece of whole cinnamon
6 whole cloves
1 heaping tsp garlic paste
1 heaping tsp ginger paste
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp Kashmiri chile powder (or more to taste)
2 tsp ground coriander powder
1 cup whipped yoghurt
4 cups of water
1 tsp white flour (maida)
2 tsp ground chickpea flour (besan)
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp freshly ground anise seed powder
1/2 tsp freshly ground green cardamom powder
salt to taste (about 1.5 tsps)
1/4 cup oil
2 tbs oil for thickening flours
Garnish: lemon wedges, chopped fresh cilantro, chopped green chiles, ginger cut into match stick sized slivers
Heat oil and brown the chicken pieces (but not the chicken stock pieces) and remove from oil. Set aside. Heat oil again and in bay leaves, cinnamon piece, black cardamom, and cloves. Once the bay leaves begin to change color, brown the onion by first frying on high heat, then lowering the heat until the slices become crisp and golden brown. Alternatively you can use pre-browned onions. Towards the end of the browning process, stir in the garlic and ginger paste and let this turn golden. Turn up the heat and add in the previously browned chicken pieces, and then the turmeric, chile powder, and coriander powder. Stir for a few moments. Now lower the heat and add in the yoghurt. (you lower the heat to prevent curdling of the yoghurt) Mix well, add in the salt, and stir fry for about 7 minutes on medium heat until the oil rises to the top of the yoghurt. Now add in the chicken stock pieces. Stir to coat with the masala mixture, then turn up the heat and add in the water. Allow the pot to boil, then cover and simmer on low heat for about 30 minutes or until the chicken is cooked.
Once the chicken is done, turn off the heat. Remove the meaty non-stock pieces from the pot and set them aside. Now, without removing the stock pieces, return the pot to a boil and boil on high heat for 10-15 minutes to remove extra water, thicken the gravy, and make the stock rich. When this step is done, you will have about 2.5 cups of gravy. Strain this gravy. You can pick the meat off of the stock pieces and use them for sandwiches laster. Aside from that, all of the spices have done their job, and any undissolved shredds of onion have given off enough of their flavor, and the chicken bones have lent their taste to the gravy. So throw it all away. Keep the gravy ready to use on the side. You can also pour off some of the oil that rises to the top of this gravy. Add water if you have boiled off too much water and have less than 2.5 cups of gravy. Now, heat a clean pan and add in 2 tbs oil. Stir in the white flour and chickpea flour and use a whisk to move this around and smooth out lumps, allowing it to sizzle in the oil and cook through for a minute. Do not allow this to burn. Slowly, 2 tbs at a time, pour in the gravy, continously whisking to avoid lumps. When you have poured in about 1 cup of gravy, go ahead and fully pour in the rest all at once. Allow this to come to a boil to thicken it. Add in the garam masala, anise seed powder, and cardamom powder. Stir this in well. Now re-add the chicken pieces you set aside earlier. Lower heat and keep covered on a very low flame for about 5 minutes. You can also allow this dish to rest a bit and re-heat gently later to allow the flavors to gel for longer.
Decorate with a little of the green garnishes and the match stick ginger, but also serve the garnishes, as well as lemon wedges, on the table with the nihari. Each diner should squeeze in her/his own lemon juice, just a few drops per serving, and add on more of whichever garnishes they like. Eat with whole grain naan to be extra healthy!