Jordan's National Dish: Mansaf
By: Waverly Nohr/ Arab America contributing writer
Mansaf is an extremely popular rice and meat dish in the Arab world. So much so that it is Jordan’s national dish. Although the dish requires a variety of ingredients, the main components that make mansaf so special are the meat, rice, bread, and tangy yogurt sauce. The recipe processes for each of these main ingredients are discussed in detail below, as well as some background information on the dish as a whole.
In terms of meat, lamb is the traditional choice, but beef can also be used. It is usually cooked in the yogurt sauce. The rice used is usually short grain, but can be substituted with other kinds of rice. It is cooked in ghee, which gives the dish a buttery and rich flavor. The bread used is called “Shrak” bread. It is similar to a tortilla, but much larger. Shrak is also so thin that it is almost translucent. It is laid out in layers beneath all the other ingredients in the dish. The sauce used to cook the meat and also as an extra layer of flavor at the end of cooking is called jameed. It is a critical ingredient in mansaf. In Jordan, jameed, which is a fermented sheep/goat milk product, is rolled into balls and hardened. In America, jameed is most commonly bought in liquid form. To make the liquid form of jameed, the balls are blended with oil until it becomes a consistency that will later be easily mixed with yogurt.
There is an art to eating mansaf. Although eating it with a fork is acceptable, it is traditionally eaten by hand. It is customary that mansaf is eaten with a group. The mansaf is placed on the table on a large platter and eaten with the right hand while the back hand is placed behind one’s back. It is rolled in the hand with the lamb in the middle and the rice as a deliciously wrapped package. Fingers should not come into contact with the mouth while eating mansaf, and the ball should ideally be delicately dropped into the mouth. The act of eating mansaf by hand allows the experience to include almost all of the senses, and heightens the dining experience. The communal effort of consuming the mansaf also contributes to the significance of the dish.
Mansaf is an important aspect of Jordanian and Arab culture. It is not just a food, but a powerful cultural symbol. It is even rumored that mansef has restored peace between Jordanian tribes. It still carries that significance, and is served at many celebrations and gatherings between loved ones. It is clear that mansef is a dish that is not only delicious, but also one with a rich history full of love and peace.
A recipe from Amira’s pantry is below.
2 pounds lamb meat preferably bone-in meat
2 Tablespoons ghee
1 onion cut into chunks or sliced
1 cinnamon stick
2 whole bay leaves
1 teaspoon black peppercorn
For the rice:
2 Tablespoons ghee
2 cups short grain rice
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
salt to taste
2½ to 2 ⅔ cups water
For the Jameed sauce:
1 cup yogurt
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
2 Tablespoons ghee
2 cloves garlic minced
1 packet liquid Jameed
1/2 cup toasted almonds
1/2 bunch parsley chopped
Fill a deep pot with water and bring to a boil. Add meat and wait for the water to boil again.
Let the meat boil with water for 5 minutes, then take the meat pieces out and dump the water.
In the same pot melt 2 tablespoons of ghee and then add onions and sauté for a couple of minutes.
Add the spices, meat cubes and brown for about 5 minutes.
Cover with hot water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until done. This will probably take about 75 minutes.
Meanwhile make the rice:
In a pot melt ghee and then add the rice. Stir rice until the rice grains are covered with ghee.
Mix in turmeric and salt and then pour in water.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and cook until done.
Make the Jameed sauce:
When the meat is done start making the Jameed sauce.
In a bowl add yogurt and spring with cornstarch. Mix the cornstarch in using a whisk.
Pour in the liquid Jameed (soup starter) and whisk well. Then mix in about 1 1/2 cups of the meat broth.
In a pot over medium heat melt ghee and then sauté the garlic for just 30 seconds.
Pour the Jameed mixture whisking everything well and bring to a boil.
Add in the the cooked meat. Taste and season to your liking.
Let everything cook together for about 10 minutes over medium heat.
To assemble the dish:
Right before serving assemble your dish.
On a big platter arrange the bread and then ladle some of the Jameed sauce on top.
Spread the rice over bread and place the lamb meat on top.
Ladle more sauce over and sprinkle the top with toasted almonds and chopped parsley.
Try this recipe and decide for yourself if it will be a family favorite!
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