My mom is visiting me these days from Pakistan. I’m so excited to have her here. The past few times she visited me in Canada, I had just moved myself or she had come to help me at the birth of my two children. This meant that she took care of us and managed everything during her visit. When she was over during my son’s birth, she not only cooked regularly but froze enough food that lasted us two months after she left! Read on for the story of how I welcomed her and cooked some Nihari for her this time.
Like all moms, my mother takes charge of taking care of her family wherever she is. When we visit her in Pakistan, her thoughtfulness is unbelievable. My room is personalized for my own growing family. There are season-appropriate clothes hanging in the cupboard, toys for the kids on the shelves, the crib set up with beautiful linen, lovely ethnic Khaddi bedcovers that are changed daily, toiletries of my preference in the washroom and even a stool for my daughter to reach the wash basin.
This time I wanted to take special care of her and give her the rest and comfort she deserves. Like so many of us who live thousands of miles away from their parents, I’m always struck with how much they have aged whenever we meet. It’s not just the greying hair and the wrinkles. It’s also the slowing of their actions, the increasing lines on the hands and the frequent rest breaks they need. However much we would like, our parents don’t stay young all our lives. And while their attitude always is to help, as kids we want to take care of them whatever chance we get. For those of us who live abroad these chances are rare and far in between.
This visit from Ammie is my chance to reflect some of the qualities of thoughtfulness, care and love, I have seen her extend all her life. My daughter was equally excited for Bibi’s visit, as she calls my mom. We decorated her room with a personalized welcome banner, fresh flowers by her bedside and books we thought she would enjoy. We made arrangements for her to be able to say her namaz while sitting and put her favorite shampoo/conditioner in the washroom.
I was concerned because she was visiting us during the harsh Canadian winters. I kept our warmest duvet on her bed, put extra moisturizing cream on her bedside and bought a warm wool sweater and cozy flannel pajamas for her. When we went to receive her at the airport, I kept a toque and pair of gloves for her. I also wanted to leave the house neat and tidy for when we came back with her, a mission impossible with small kids.
As I kept putting the odd toy away and doing one last sweep of the counter there was one thing I was confident and sure about: the pot of hot delicious Nihari at the stove I had prepared with Shan spice mix. (Disclaimer: I’m a brand ambassador for Shan Foods. All views are my own). I wanted to welcome my mother with a warm meal as she landed in cold cold Canada and Nihari seemed like the perfect choice.
Nihari is a rich beef stew that is slow cooked along with bone marrow. It originated in south asia in the late 18th century in the elaborate Mughal kitchens by some accounts and those of the Nawabs of Lucknow by others. Nobility would famously eat Nihari early in the morning after fajr prayers and then take long naps. It’s my guess that the word Nihari originates from the urdu word “Nihaar Moon” that means first thing in the morning. One of my fond winter memories growing up in Pakistan, is going to a street side restaurant that specialized in and served only Nihari. The chef and owner would be sitting on top of a big cauldron stirring the stew as it cooked slowly and spooned out steaming hot bowls of Nihari that we enjoyed with fresh naan coming out of the clay tandoor (oven).
I had never cooked Nihari on my own. It was a complex recipe that I had tried to learn from my phupo once and given up. However when I resolved to make it for my mother, I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to make it with the Shan Nihari spice mix. I ordered the meat from my local desi butcher and found the rest of the ingredients easily in my kitchen. Here are all the ingredients needed sans the meat (because I don’t find kacha meat appetizing enough to photograph!).
The steps were written at the back of the box. I was nervous as I started but it was quite a breeze. My husband lurked around cautiously and asked me, “are you sure you don’t want to order the Nihari from a restaurant?”. When I turned around and said “I got this”, I truly meant it! When I was done, the Nihari looked so professional I took a hundred pictures at awkward instagram angles. The taste test was a success too and I couldn’t wait to serve the dish to my mother.
The complete recipe is below. Nihari is traditionally served with naan and a tray for garnish with chopped coriander, green chilies, sliced ginger and lemon. Entire generations of Saleeqa (propriety) are judged by the way the ginger is sliced but this is a topic for another post!
When we reached home, Ammie took no time to open her large suitcases and take out one thoughtful gift after another. As always, she had done it again. Her thoughtfulness was miles ahead of mine. But that’s what mothers do: they keep redefining love and take it to infinity like only mothers can.
I was satisfied this time though, as I had done my childish best. As we sat down for lunch, she couldn’t believe that I had made the Nihari myself. Watching her enjoy and appreciate my home-cooked meal was all the reward I was looking for. Day 1 done. Now hoping I can make the rest of her visit equally enjoyable. Thank you Shan for taking care of this one!
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