Nalli Biryani: A Recipe for Hyderabad’s Famous Lamb Biryani

ai generated, delhi, watercolor-8189053.jpg

As you sit down to a steaming plate of nalli biryani, prepare your senses for an explosion of flavors and aromas.This famous lamb biryani from Hyderabad is a culinary delight that will transport you to the streets of Charminar. Marinated lamb shanks are slow-cooked for hours with basmati rice and a medley of spices until the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender. Saffron, cardamom, and rosewater infuse the rice with an intoxicating fragrance while dried plums and cashews provide little bursts of sweetness. With each bite of meat and spoonful of rice, you get a complex blend of flavors ranging from savory to spicy to subtly sweet. This biryani is a treat for all senses and a must-try dish for any foodie visiting the capital city of Telangana. Lose yourself in the sensory experience of nalli biryani – you will be glad you did.

An Introduction to Hyderabadi Nalli Biryani

A Brief History of Hyderabadi Nalli Biryani

Hyderabadi Nalli Biryani originates from Hyderabad, India and is a richly spiced dish of basmati rice and lamb shanks. ‘Nalli’ refers to the lamb shanks, which are braised until the meat becomes deliciously tender and falls off the bone. The dish was created during the rule of the Nizams of Hyderabad, who were connoisseurs of fine food.

To make Nalli Biryani, lamb shanks are marinated in yogurt and spices like chili, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom and saffron. The shanks are then seared to lock in the flavors and cooked in the marinade until the meat is tender. Separately, basmati rice is cooked in stock with whole spices. Before serving, the rice and lamb shanks are layered in a pot and cooked together. The resulting dish is aromatic, flavorful and hearty.

Nalli Biryani is usually quite rich, so it is often accompanied by a cooling raita, made of cucumbers in yogurt. Other classic pairings include mango pickle, boondi ka raita or mirchi ka salan, a spicy chili curry. Nalli Biryani is typically only eaten on special occasions since preparing it is quite labor-intensive. However, many Hyderabadi restaurants now offer Nalli Biryani, allowing people to enjoy this royal dish more frequently.

With its complex blend of spices, the melt-in-your-mouth lamb shanks and fragrant basmati rice, Nalli Biryani is a quintessential Hyderabadi experience and considered by many to be the crown jewel of Hyderabadi cuisine. No trip to Hyderabad is complete without sampling this iconic dish.

Nalli Biryani Ingredients You’ll Need

To make authentic Nalli Biryani, you will need the following ingredients:

Lamb (Mutton)

  • 2 pounds of lamb neck, shank or shoulder meat with bone in, cut into large chunks. The bone imparts more flavor to the dish.


  • 4 cups of aged basmati rice. Basmati rice is essential for making biryani as it remains light and fluffy after cooking. Aged rice produces even better results.


  • 3 black cardamom pods
  • 3 green cardamom pods
  • 1 inch cinnamon stick
  • 4 cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon shahi jeera (black cumin seeds)
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon mace powder


  • 3 medium onions, sliced
  • 3 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 inch ginger, grated
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 green chilies, slit
  • 1/2 cup chopped coriander leaves
  • 2 tablespoons chopped mint leaves


  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons red chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/2 cup yogurt, whisked
  • salt to taste
  • 2 tablespoons fried onions for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons ghee

With these components prepared, you have everything needed to make Nalli Biryani following the recipe steps. The lamb provides a hearty protein, the aged basmati rice gives the dish its characteristic light and fluffy texture, and the blend of spices infuses it with classic Hyderabadi flavor. Enjoy!

Preparing the Marinated Lamb

To prepare the marinated lamb for Nalli Biryani, follow these steps:


  • 2 pounds lamb shanks (nalli), cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup lime or lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 3 tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 green chilies, slit
  • Fresh cilantro for garnish


  1. Combine the lime juice, ginger, garlic, and spices (chili powder through garam masala) in a large bowl. Add the lamb shanks and toss to coat. Cover and marinate overnight.
  2. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Remove the lamb from the marinade, reserving the marinade, and pat dry with paper towels.
  3. Add the lamb to the pot in batches to avoid crowding and cook, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
  4. Add the onions, tomatoes, and green chilies to the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft, about 10 minutes.
  5. Return the lamb to the pot. Add the reserved marinade and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low.
  6. Cover and simmer until the lamb is tender, about 2 to 3 hours. Skim off any excess fat and season with salt to taste. Garnish with cilantro.
  7. Remove the lamb shanks and set aside to cool slightly. Shred the meat and add it back to the pot with the sauce. Serve over rice or with naan bread.

Cooking the Basmati Rice

To prepare the basmati rice, you will need the following ingredients:

  • 2 cups aged basmati rice
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Rinsing the Rice

Rinse the basmati rice in a fine-mesh strainer under cool running water until the water runs clear. This removes excess starch and any dirt or debris. Drain the rice and set aside.

Boiling the Water

Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Once boiling, add the salt and stir to dissolve.

Adding the Rice

Add the rinsed rice to the boiling salted water. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting, cover, and simmer until the rice is tender and has absorbed all the liquid, about 15 minutes.

Fluffing the Rice

Remove from heat and let the rice stand covered for 5 minutes. Then, uncover, and use a fork to fluff the rice, breaking up any large clumps. This allows steam to escape and helps individual grains separate.

Cooling the Rice

Spread the rice on a rimmed baking sheet and cool to room temperature before using in the biryani. The rice needs to be cooled in order for the layers of rice and lamb to set properly as the biryani cooks.

Tips for Perfect Rice

For the best results, follow these tips:

• Use aged basmati rice for more flavor and aroma. Aged rice has been stored for a minimum of 1 year, which helps develop its characteristic nutlike flavor and aroma.

• Rinsing the rice removes excess starch and results in light and fluffy grains.

• For extra flavor, you can also add whole spices to the boiling water such as cardamom pods, whole cloves, cinnamon sticks or bay leaves.

• Fluffing the rice with a fork after cooking helps the grains stay separate and not clumpy.

• Spreading and cooling the rice before layering in the biryani allows excess moisture to evaporate, resulting in rice that is light and doesn’t become mushy.

Assembling and Cooking the Biryani

To assemble and cook the Nalli Biryani, follow these steps:

Marinating the lamb

Marinate 2 pounds of lamb shanks (nalli) in 1 cup yogurt, 3 tablespoons ginger-garlic paste, 1 tablespoon red chili powder, 1 teaspoon garam masala, and salt to taste. Set aside to marinate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Preparing the rice

Rinse and soak 2 cups basmati rice in water for 30 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Sautéing the spices

Heat 3 tablespoons vegetable oil in a deep pan or Dutch oven. Add 3 bay leaves, 5 green cardamom pods, 5 cloves, and 1 inch cinnamon stick. Sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Browning the lamb

Add the marinated lamb shanks to the pan. Cook, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Creating the layers

Add 2 sliced onions, 3 sliced tomatoes, 1 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste, and 1 teaspoon red chili powder to the pan. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and lightly browned, about 10 minutes.

Add the parboiled rice, 4 cups water, and salt to taste. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer until the rice is tender and has absorbed all the liquid, about 20 minutes.

Fluff the rice with a fork and spread over the bottom of the pan. Top with half the lamb shanks, half the sautéd onions and tomatoes, and half the spices from the pan. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.

Sealing and steaming

Cover tightly with foil and the lid. Cook over low heat until the lamb is tender, about 1 hour. Allow to stand covered for 10 minutes, then serve. The biryani is best served warm with raita, salad, and papad.

Tips for Getting the Perfect Nalli Biryani

To achieve the perfect Nalli Biryani, there are a few tips to keep in mind.

Use High Quality Ingredients

The ingredients are the foundation of any dish, so use the freshest, highest quality spices and basmati rice. Whole spices like cardamom, cloves, cinnamon stick, and bay leaves will impart the most flavor. For the rice, look for aged basmati rice that is light, fluffy, and fragrant. Meat should be tender lamb shanks.

Marinate the Meat

Marinating the lamb shanks in a yogurt mixture helps tenderize the meat and infuses it with flavor. A blend of chili, garlic, ginger, and spices creates a flavorful marinade. Let the meat marinate overnight for maximum effect. Turning the meat a couple times as it marinates will ensure even coverage.

Use a Heavy Bottomed Pan

A thick pan helps distribute heat evenly and prevents burning. Cast iron works well for biryani. Add oil or ghee to the pan and brown the marinated lamb shanks on all sides before removing and setting aside.

Layer and Seal

The layering of ingredients and sealing the pan are what give biryani its distinctive taste and texture. Alternate layers of rice, fried onions, lamb shanks, yogurt, and spices. Seal and cook the biryani by covering the pan with dough or foil and simmering until the rice is tender and has absorbed all the flavors.

Garnish and Serve

Once cooked, garnish the biryani with fried onions, cashews, raisins, chili, cilantro, mint, and lime. Serve the biryani hot with a side of raita, a yogurt and cucumber salad, to balance the richness. Biryani is usually eaten by hand, so be sure to provide extra napkins.

Following these tips will help you achieve a perfect Hyderabad Nalli Biryani, a dish fit for royalty, in your own home. With some care and patience, you’ll be making biryani that rivals any restaurant in no time.

Nalli Biryani Variations to Try

There are several delicious variations of Nalli Biryani that you can try. Each version offers unique flavors and aromas that highlight the diversity of Hyderabadi cuisine.

Kalyani Biryani

Also known as the “poor man’s biryani,” Kalyani biryani uses small cubes of beef instead of lamb. It has a spicier flavor due to the addition of green chilies and incorporates local spices like cloves, cardamom, and cinnamon. This biryani is usually garnished with caramelized onions, cashews, and raisins.

Egg Biryani

For a unique twist, add hard-boiled eggs to your biryani. The eggs absorb the flavorful spices and broth, resulting in a creamy yet aromatic dish. Many people enjoy the textural contrast between the soft eggs and chewy lamb. You can also add paneer, potatoes, or cauliflower for extra vegetal heartiness.

Keema Biryani

Replace the lamb chunks with lightly spiced minced lamb or mutton, known as keema. Keema biryani has an earthy, robust flavor and a softer texture than nalli biryani. The keema is usually mixed directly into the rice, allowing the meat juices to permeate each grain. Top it off with fried onions, cashews, and coriander leaves.

Chicken Biryani

For a lighter option, use bone-in chicken pieces in place of lamb. The chicken absorbs the spices well and produces a broth that delicately flavors the rice. You may need to reduce the cooking time since chicken takes less time than lamb. Garnish with fresh cilantro and lemon wedges.

Biryani is meant to be a shared, communal dish. Experiment with different meats, vegetables, and spices to create your own signature biryani. Your guests are sure to appreciate such a thoughtful, personalized touch. Most importantly, biryani should be enjoyed with loved ones—the spices and flavors are best savored in good company.

Serving Suggestions for Nalli Biryani

Nalli biryani is meant to be enjoyed family-style, shared among many. When serving this delicious Hyderabadi dish, keep the following suggestions in mind:


No biryani is complete without a few classic accompaniments. Serve the nalli biryani with:

  • Raita, a cooling cucumber yogurt dip
  • Mirchi ka salan, a spicy chili garlic curry
  • Bagara baingan, fried eggplant in a sesame peanut sauce
  • Kheer, a creamy rice pudding for dessert


Present the biryani attractively in a large serving dish, garnished with:

  • Fried onions (birista)
  • Mint leaves
  • Lime wedges
  • Pistachios or almonds

This will enhance the visual appeal and aroma, exciting your guests before the first bite.

Portion Control

Nalli biryani is a rich, hearty dish. Serve moderate portion sizes, around 1 to 1.5 cups per person. This allows your guests to enjoy the complex flavors without feeling overly full. They can always come back for seconds!


A chilled glass of mango lassi, sweet lemonade or masala chai are perfect drink pairings for nalli biryani. For alcohol, consider:

  • An aromatic Sauvignon Blanc or Viognier wine which complements the spices
  • A hoppy India Pale Ale beer with citrus notes
  • A ginger-infused cocktail to balance the richness


Nalli biryani tastes even better the next day as the flavors have time to blend and develop. Refrigerate leftovers promptly and enjoy within 3 to 4 days. Garnish leftovers with fresh cilantro and lemon juice to perk up the flavors before serving. Leftover biryani also makes a great filling for samosas or can be topped with eggs for biryani khagina.

With these tips, you’ll serve a memorable nalli biryani that will have your guests longing for another invitation. Enjoy!

FAQ – Common Questions About Making Nalli Biryani

Common Questions About Making Nalli Biryani

When preparing Nalli Biryani, you may have some questions about the ingredients, technique or process. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions and their answers:

  • What cut of lamb is nalli? Nalli refers to lamb shanks, which are the lower portion of the legs. Lamb shanks contain meat, fat, connective tissue and bone, which provide lots of flavor when braised.
  • Can I use basmati rice instead of long-grain rice? Yes, basmati rice is traditionally used to make biryani. Basmati rice grains remain separate and fluffy when cooked, unlike regular long-grain rice. Basmati rice absorbs spices well and has a nutty aroma.
  • Do I have to use saffron? Saffron adds a vibrant yellow color and distinctive flavor to biryani, but it is optional. You can omit the saffron if desired, but the biryani may be slightly less yellow in color. Turmeric can be used as a less expensive substitute for saffron to provide yellow color.
  • Can I prepare the dish in advance? Yes, nalli biryani can be prepared in advance. Cook the lamb shanks, rice and masala separately, then layer and assemble the biryani. Refrigerate for up to 2 days before baking and serving. When ready to serve, bake the biryani in the oven until the rice and lamb are heated through.
  • What accompaniments go well with nalli biryani? Nalli biryani is usually served with a yogurt raita, chopped cilantro, fried onions, lemon wedges and chili sauce. A simple salad, dal makhani or eggplant curry also pair nicely. Naan, paratha or poori bread can be served to soak up the flavorful sauce.
  • Can I freeze nalli biryani? Yes, nalli biryani freezes well for up to 3 months. Allow the biryani to cool, then freeze in an airtight container or ziplock freezer bag. When ready to eat, thaw the biryani in the refrigerator overnight. Reheat thoroughly in the oven until the internal temperature reaches 165 F. Enjoy your delicious nalli biryani!


As you can see, Nalli biryani requires patience and care to prepare. But the end result is well worth the effort. The succulent lamb, fragrant spices, and fluffy rice create a dish that is a feast for all the senses. When you take your first bite of this famous Hyderabadi delicacy, you will understand why it has endured for centuries and spread far beyond the city of its origin. Nalli biryani is a culinary masterpiece that connects people across regions, cultures, and generations. By following this recipe, you have the opportunity to create a dish that captures the essence of Hyderabad and share it with friends and family. So take your time, give this recipe your full attention, and enjoy every step of crafting this most regal of biryanis. Your patience and care will be rewarded when you finally sit down to savor every delectable morsel.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Chiniot pakwan
Send via WhatsApp