Nansaf is the dish Jordan is most famous for. You will find it at every occasion or social gathering, be it a wedding, graduation, holidays, or just a plain old family gathering. There is really nothing more Jordanian than a platter of Mansaf!
The dish has three main components: lamb, rice and jameed. When making this dish, only the best cuts of lamb will do, as it seriously impacts the flavour of the dish. As for thejameed, it is made from fermented and dried goat’s milk that is then formed into hard balls and soaked and rehydrated before being cooked into the delicious dish that is mansaf. Nowadays, you can find liquid jameed that is already rehydrated and diluted, which really makes life easier and allows you to make the dish in one day. Of course if you prefer to use the jameed stones and rehydrate them yourself, more power to you!
As for the rice, dying it with the turmeric turns it a lovely yellow that is the perfect contrast to the white yogurt, the browned meat, and the green parsley.
Mansaf is an Arabic word that means both the froth produced by milk when it is boiled and to devour something. The latter is definitely closer to the reality of what happens when one eats the dish!
It’s believed that mansaf was inspired by the Saudi Arabian dish known as thereed, which consists of meat, broth and bread. As Jordanian Bedouins continuously moved in search of water and shelter, they picked up the good and traditions of the people they encountered. However, once Jordan became an agricultural country, they started to have a variety of produce. As a result, they added things such as rice, grains and yogurt to their diet, thus developing thereed into mansaf.
Jordanians are serious about their mansaf, and based on Bedouin tradition, it is served as a sign of respect and hospitality. There are even rituals or traditions followed while eatingmansaf, which we still see today. Mansaf is traditionally eaten from a large communal platter, and each person eats with the fingertips of their right hand. The rice and bread is usually formed into a ball which is moistened with the yogurt sauce. Of course this is easier said than done and requires some practice. You are of course always welcome to use cutlery, which is my preferred method.
- 2.5-3 kg lamb pieces (bone-in) – any part, but leg is particularly good for this recipe
- 1 onion – quartered
- 1 small lemon – quartered
- 2-3 cloves of garlic – halved
- 2 tsp peppercorns
- 7-8 cardamom pods
- 4-5 whole cloves
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon (or 1 cinnamon stick)
- 2 tbsp mixed spice
- 1 tbsp cumin
- 1 kg liquid jameed
- 300-350 g labaneh (or Greek yogurt)
- 500-700 ml ayran/lassi (drinking yogurt)
- Salt (to taste)
- 2-3 tbsp butter or ghee
- 4 cups short grain rice
- 1 tbsp turmeric
- – Plating
- 2-3 pieces of shrak bread (or any thin bread)
- Fried almonds (to taste)
- Fried pine nuts (to taste)
- Chopped parsley
1. Wash the rice and soak it with the turmeric. Make sure to mix the turmeric in well so that it evenly coats the grains, so that they all turn yellow and you don’t have any white spots.
2. Sear the lamb in some vegetable oil. Make sure to sear all sides. You may need to do this in batches, depending on the size of your pot. Once all the pieces are seared, put all the pieces back into the pot and fill it with cold water until it covers the meat. Once the water starts to boil, the meat will start to give off impurities. Lower the heat to medium and make sure you skim all of the impurities so you have a clear and delicious broth for your mansaf. This step is very important, and takes some time, so stay close to the pot. The meat continuously produces impurities for the first 15-20 minutes.
3. Once the meat stops producing impurities, or produces very little, add the onion, garlic, lemon and spices. Stir the pot, cover and let the meat simmer on a medium heat for one and a half to two hours, or until the meat is tender and falling off the bone. Make sure to check the pot periodically to make sure there is enough water covering the meat. If the water level is low, add water and bring back to the boil before lowering the heat again and leaving to simmer.
4. When the meat is tender, strain the broth and put the meat pieces on the side. We will add it to the yogurt towards the end. Make sure to keep the broth. As you will need it to dilute your yogurt.
5. For the yogurt, in a large pot (the one you used to make the meat is ideal to reduce dishes), whisk the liquid jameed (feel free to use the jameed stones, but you will need to soak them the night before) with the labaneh and some of the liquid yogurt. Put the pot on medium heat and whisk continuously until the mixture boils. Slowly add in the broth. Make sure the broth is hot, so that the yogurt mixture doesn’t break. Continue to add broth and ayran until you get the desired taste and thickness. The yogurt should be no thicker than a stew, but can be thinner if you like. This would be the time to taste the yogurt mixture and add salt if you need it. Keep in mind that the jameed is heavily salted, so make sure you try it before you add salt.
6. Once your yogurt has reached the desired thickness, add in the pieces of meat, and let simmer on a low heat for about 15-20 minutes, just so the meat and yogurt flavours mix.
7. While your yogurt and meat are cooking, start on your rice. In a large pot, put some ghee or butter, and then add the drained rice to the pot. Mix the rice with the ghee/butter until every grain of rice is coated. Then add water as directed by the pack. A general rule of thumb is to add enough water to just cover the rice. Add salt to the rice and lower the heat to the lowest setting. The rice is ready when all of the water is absorbed. Check on your rice periodically and mix with a fork, not a spoon.
8. Once everything is done, it is time to assemble the dish. In a large serving platter, start by covering the bottom of the platter with the shrak bread. Then add a few ladles of yogurt to the bread, to soften it a little. Then top the bread with the rice, and ladle on a bit more yogurt. Next, arrange the pieces of meat in the centre of the platter, and again, add a few ladles of yogurt. Sprinkle the dish with the pine nuts, almonds, and parsley and your mansafis ready to serve. Make sure you put the yogurt in a separate bowl so each person can add as much yogurt to their plate as they like.
9. Mansaf is a meal on its own and doesn’t need any side dishes. You can, however, serve some pickles and olives and dig in!