Mansaf is definitely a unique dish in so many ways, from its ingredients to the way it tastes.
A very traditional Jordanian dish that is served at any big gathering, from weddings to funerals.
The history of this dish is one that goes back a long way and was a meal eaten by bedouin tribes.
Originally mansaf was a dish made with either camel or lamb meat.
It was served with a very thin flat bread and a meat broth and clarified butter.
It has evolved to include rice, and a yogurt sauce, flavored and made with jameed, a dehydrated salty yogurt, that is reconstituted with water.
What is Mansaf?
Mansaf today, is a very popular dish across many Middle Eastern countries, and is eaten from Saudi Arabia to Palestine.
Eaten casually at home, it is best known and most often served at important occasions, both happy and sad.
A platter of mansaf is a good way of feeding a lot of people all in one go when traditionally served.
Made simply of shrak, a bread thinner than a tortilla that is shredded and placed at the bottom of the tray to soak up the sauce.
On top of this is placed cooked rice, on top of which pieces of lamb are arranged.
The laban jameed sauce is laddled over it all, and as a finishing touch, roasted almonds or pine nuts are sprinkled on top.
What Do I Need to Make Mansaf?
The hardest to find ingredient in the US is the thing that defines mansaf, and that is the laban jameed.
Laban in Arabic is the word for yogurt, and jameed means hard, and that is exactly what it is, hard yogurt.
Dried milky yogurt to be exact, it is made using goat’s milk, preserved with salt, and dried in egg shaped balls.
The laban is reconstituted with water and made into a salty and very tasty broth.
A variety of bands can be found packaged as a liquid for quick use.
Referred to as a Soup Starter in the States it is now possible to buy prepackaged jameed as a liquid.
The two main brands that are found in the States are Ziyad and Kasih, both are good quality.
Having the jameed in liquid form makes things easier when it comes to preparation.
There is no predescribed thickness to the laban sauce and you can have it as thick or thin as you like.
As a rule when using the prepackaged variety, I mix each cup of jameed with one cup water.
But as I said if you like it thinner or thicker that is totally up to you and your taste buds.
The other ingredients are the shrak bread, rice, lamb, and pine nuts or almonds or both.
How to Make Mansaf
In a large pot over medium high heat, add one kilo, or two pounds of chopped leg of lamb into boiling water.
Add enough water to cover the lamb, once boiling reduce the heat, and cook slowly until the lamb is cooked.
Add whole cloves, allspice, cinnamon, and bay leaves to the cooking water as the lamb is boiled.
Make rice, and reconstitute the jameed (dry yoghurt) by breaking it into pieces and soaking it in water.
Using a food processor, process the jameed and water to make a thick paste.
Drain the meat using a sieve and reserve the brothy liquid the meat was cooked in.
Mix the jameed paste with the broth and stir until you have a creamy white sauce.
Tear the shrak bread into roughly 2 inch squares and layer the bottom of the tray with it.
Ladle some of the laban sauce over the bread allowing the bread to soak it up.
Place a generous layer of rice over the shrak, some might even say make a mound of rice.
Add the cooked lamb to the top of the rice and ladle the laban sauce over the rice and lamb.
Being very generous with your ladling, make sure the whole mansaf gets some of the all important sauce.
Top with fried pine nuts, slivered almonds, or both.
Heat and set aside any remaining sauce which can be added to people’s plates as they are eating.
How to Eat It
Traditionally mansaf is eaten using your hands while standing around a circular tray.
Only the right hand is used to eat mansaf. The hand is seen a the dirty hand.
Never use your left hand, and this applies even if you happen to be left-handed.
Take a bit of lamb, bread and rice to make a ball, then pop into your mouth in one bite!
Tips for Making
- Slow cook your meat so that it remains tender.
- The sauce must be not too thick or too runny, it should have the consistency of a thin gravy.
For the Meat
- 2 lbs Lamb Meat cut into chunks (including bones)
- 6 cups Water
- 2 crystals Gum Arabic
- 4 Cloves whole
- 4 Cardamom pods
- 1 Cinnamon Stick
- 13 Allspice berries
- 1 Bay Leaf
For the Rice
- 2 cups Rice
- 4 cups Water
- 1½ tsp Salt
- Pinch of Saffron
For the Laban Sauce
- 1 Laban Jameed
- 4 cups Water
For the Bread Base
- 2 loaves shrak or tortillas
For the Topping
- 4 tbsp Almonds blanched and chopped
- ¼ cup Parsley chopped
For the Meat
- Put the lamb in 6 cups of water, bring to a boil and add the spices.
- When the water comes to a boil turn down to a slow simmer.
- Cook for 2 hours or until the meat is tender. Add more boiling water if necessary.
- Once the meat is done, pour through a sieve and preserve the water. Set the meat aside on a plate for later.
For the Laban Sauce
- Wrap the laban in a cloth and break into pieces with a hammer.
- Place the laban and 4 cups of water in a food processor and process until laban has dissolved.
- Pour laban into a bowl through a sieve, set aside.
- Pour the laban into the meat water, and put back on the heat. Bring to a boil.
- Add the lamb chunks to the sauce (leaving out the spices).
For the Rice
- In a pot, put 2 cups rice, 4 cups water, 1½ tsp salt and a pinch of saffron.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until all the water has gone.
Bringing It All Together
- Toast your almonds in a frying pan with a little olive oil.
- Tear bread into little pieces on a plate as a base for the meal.
- Ladle some of the sauce over the bread on the plate.
- Spread the rice over the bread.
- Ladle more sauce over the rice.
- Place the lamb chunks on top of the rice.
- Ladle more sauce over the top.
- Sprinkle toasted almonds and parsley over the entire dish.