What’s cooking in Jordan?
Mansef, a traditional Jordanian and Bedouin dish
Through a mutual friend in Geneva, I was able to contact Bianca, who lives in Amman in Jordan. Bianca is a Dutch-Italian who is married to a Jordanian. She met her husband in the Netherlands and they have three children. After their first visit to Jordan together, her husband realized how much he missed his family and home country. He asked Bianca if she would agree to move to Jordan. Bianca hesitated for a long while. After many visits to the country, and 5 years after her husband asked, she finally agreed to move to Amman, where they have been living for 13 years now. Bianca’s husband works as a tour guide for Dutch speaking tourists, and Bianca owns a small business that offers Dutch language courses in Amman. In the meanwhile, they are still building on their dreams for the future as they are building a house in Madaba, close to the Dead Sea. Bianca and her husband hope to open their small family run Bed & Breakfast there in the fall of 2019, and Bianca would like to offer cooking workshops to their guests with dishes from various Arabic countries.
About Jordanian cuisine
In Jordan, people cook with fresh and seasonal ingredients. ‘There are a lot less ‘ready to cook sauce mixes’ like you will find in European supermarkets. People just don’t really use them’, says Bianca. ‘Everyone cooks fresh and seasonal’. There are many Arabic dishes and their food has multiple influences. Before the borders of the Middle Eastern countries were defined, some of these countries were one big country, and even though every region and country (or sometimes towns or even families) have their variations of dishes, you can see similarities in the cuisines. ‘These variations of the dishes make the Arabic cuisine quite surpising’, says Bianca.
Mansef is the national Jordanian dish, and is traditional to the Bedouins. Mansef is lamb meat, served on yellow rice with a yoghurt sauce on top of a layer of Shraak bread (thin typical Bedouin bread). Since the Bedouins move around, they do not have a lot of possessions or luxury, and therefore not so many different dishes. The hospitality of the Bedouins, the Jordanians, and Arabic people in general is amazing. It is very normal for them to invite travelers to their homes and offer them a meal. Bedouins still do that today. Nine out of ten times, the meal they will offer you, is Mansef. Mansef is served on big plates so that several people can gather around one plate. The Bedouins prefer to eat Mansef while standing, and, like in most Arabic cultures, with their right hand. They form a ball of the rice with the pieces of meat, and the yoghurt sauce helps all of it to stick together. Jordanians are proud to offer Mansef to their guests and it is often served on weddings and funerals as it is relatively easy to cook it for a large number of people. The dish is definitely a symbol of the country’s cuisine, culture and hospitality!
Cooking time: about 2,5 hours
Ingredients for a big plate of Mansef (serves 4-6):
- 1,5 kg of pieces of lamb meat, with the bone
- 3 cups of Basmati rice (1 cup = 250 ml)
- 1 kilo of Greek (or Turkish) yoghurt
- Half a teaspoon of Turmeric
- 1 tablespoon of Mansef spices (mix up: 1/7 tablespoon of Cardamom, ¼ tablespoon of Turmeric, 1/6 tablespoon of Fenugreek and a bit of Sweet Clover).
Note from Let’s Explore: I was not able to find Sweet Clover (it may be available in health stores), and read that Mansef sometimes had a bit of ground cumin in it, so we have added a bit of that.)
- 2 sheets of Shraak (Arabic bread), or 4 thin Pita breads
- A hand full of almonds
- A hand full of chopped fresh Parsley
- Optional: in some varieties of this dish, people add a bit of cinnamon. Some also add a bit of roasted pine nuts on top together with the almonds.
How to prepare:
- Wash off the lamb meat and put it in a large pot of cold water.
- Bring it to boil and then lower the temperature.
- Take off the foam which has formed on top of the water.
- Leave it to cook for 2 hours until the meat is soft and tender.
- In the meanwhile, you wash the rice until the water that comes off is clear. You leave the rice under water for at least a half an hour. After a half an hour you discard of the liquid with a strainer.
- Start frying the almonds in a pan with a bit of oil until they are nicely browned.
- At the end of the cooking time of the meat, you add salt. You can add more than you would usually do as the bouillon will be used to cook the rice in later.
- When the meat is almost cooked through, you start preparing the rice.
- Add a bit of oil in a pan and cook the rice while stirring so that all the grains of rice will have a thin layer of oil on it.
- Once this is done, and when the meat is cooked through and tender, you turn off the heat of the meat, but leave the pan so that it will stay warm.
- You then add a bit of the meat’s cooking liquid (the bouillon) to the rice, until it covers the rice at about a centimeter of height.
- Add salt and the Turmeric to the rice and turn on the heat high.
- Bring it to boil and once it boils you lower the temperature and cook for about 10 more minutes until the rice is tender. If there is too little liquid, you add some during the cooking process.
- After 10 minutes you turn off the heat but leave the rice in the pan until you assemble the dish.
- At the same time that the rice is cooking, you start to prepare your yoghurt sauce.
- Put the yoghurt in a pot on medium heat and bring it to boil while stirring. It is important to keep stirring!
- When the yoghurt boils you add the Mansef spices and a bit of the meat’s bouillon until you have the right consistency of sauce.
- Turn off the heat. You are now ready to assemble the dish.
On your biggest plate, put your Shraak or Pita bread. If you use Pita bread, you cut 1 Pita in half to make it a thin bread layer. On top of that, you add the rice and make sure it is evenly put everywhere. You top the rice with the pieces of lamb meat, equally divided everywhere on the plate. Put on a bit of the yoghurt sauce, but not too much as the dish should not be too liquid. You keep the rest of the sauce on the side so that people can add some whenever they want. You then top your Mansef with the almonds and fresh parsley.
Thank you so much Bianca for sharing with us how to cook this delicious Mansef! Do keep us posted on your dreamhouse and future Bed & Breakfast!