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Sunday, 14 August 2011

Jordanian Mansaf - More than just Food, It Is a Social Tradition!

Serves 12  |  Easy

Mansaf in Jordan, is more than just food to fill your stomach...
Mansaf in Jordan, is a piece of History, Culture and Lifestyle. It is a Social Tradition!

Jordan has so much to offer! There is Historical Sites, Such as Petra, Roman Amphitheaters, Jericho, Al Maghtas (baptism Site, Bethany - Jordan River) and everything in between. There is Nature at its most beautiful, such as the deserts of the south, which house the Magical Mountains of Wadi Rum very closely located to Aqaba, the city by the beautiful and rich Red Sea. There are the water springs of Ma'ine, the greenery of the north and all that you can think of in terms of natural beauty. Jordan is a must visit, if you haven't already! It is beautiful, with lots to offer.

When in Jordan though, one thing you must never miss out on is a good Mansaf! Mansaf is the heart of the Jordanian cuisine. It is basically a stew of meat in fermented goat's milk, that is very uniquely delicious. If you have not tried it before and would like to give it a go, or if you have tried it but live away from Jordan, or if you would like to learn more about Mansaf, this is the post with the recipe and the info, so read on... 

Since Mansaf to the Jordanians is more than just food to fill your stomach, and more of a piece of History, Culture and lifestyle - Mansaf in Jordan is a Social Tradition - I, therefore, cannot tap into this delicious dish, without a bit of a background...

Mansaf is food originating from the desert,
and is reflective of that environment, its produce and  storage requirements

The Mansaf that we know today is inspired and based on the Saudi Arabian dish "Thereed". Thereed is essentially a dish made out of meat, broth and bread. The whole area was inhabited by Bedouins and as these happen to be living in the desert, they kept on moving in search for water and shelter from the harsh weather conditions in the different seasons. These relocations have carried with them the Bedouin's food and traditions to the new areas. 

The early Jordanian Bedouines ate Thereed as their main food, of course as being a desert the food was limited to that environment's produce. As Jordan started becoming an agricultural country, and being influenced by the peasants and the cultures of the dislocated neighbours, the country's produce started growing in number and kind. Consequently, the Jordanian Bedouins started introducing new produce into their food, such as rice, wheat, Bulgar as well as yoghurt. Which eventually went into their main food preparation and evolved the originally Thereed into what is now known as Mansaf.

Goats' Yoghurt put in a sack and shaken to seperate the milk solids and the liquid

The making of Mansaf, starts well before the actual cooking. Making the Jameed (fermented yoghurt, from which Mansaf is made) is the first step.

Jameed balls, are bought from local stores, and some speciality stores. In Jordan they are always bought from the source: the Bedouins making it. Nowadays, there is a modern version of Jameed that comes in carton containers, already liquified, but they are no where near the goodness of the original dried Jameed balls. 

Here is a quick run through how Jameed is made.

Once Solids are separated from liquids, the solids (jabjab) are then mixed with salt
and left to sun-dry

Jameed is made out of milk. The milk can vary from maker to another and sometimes from area to another, and so does the quality. The best quality Jameed is made out of Goat's Milk. The Karaki Jameed (Coming from Karak) is famous to be the best in Jordan. The Goat's milk is put in a container to change from milk to yogurt. It is then placed in a sack (originally made from goats' skin) and shaken to seperate the milk solids from liquids.
In the old days, a Bedouin lady would sit and shake the milk till ready, but nowadays there are machines that carry out this step. 

The butter (milk solid) will then be taken and made into local ghee (Samen Baladi), which is later on used in the cooking of Mansaf.

Jameed Balls

The remaining Soured Milk (liquids) is then heated to separate further. The whole separated mixture is then placed in a large cloth (kind of like a cheese cloth technique) to completely drain out all the remaining liquid. There will only remain Jabjab, which is the hard solid part. This is then mixed with salt, and left for a further 24 hours in the cloth to dry. Then it is taken out of the Cloth, and pressed together and shaped into balls, which are then left to sun-dry for 2-3 days. 

These Jameed balls will then be rock hard, and the name literally meaning solid is reflective of their dry solid state. These Jameed Balls can be stored for about a year, which is very convenient for desert life, as they had no access to refrigeration and other storage options. Then when ready to cook, the Jameed is rehydrated, by being broken up, soaked in water and rubed to go back into liquid state. It is then added to meat and broth, creating a yoghurt-based sauce.

Mansaf Traditions
Drawn mainly from Bedouin Traditions, Mansaf is usually offered by Jordanian hosts as a token of appretiation, respect and value. It is an expression of how valued you are to them as their guest. The meat used is generally indicative of the guest's status to them. If it is made with Goat's Meat that is reflective of the highest grades of respect and value, less is the lamb, and least is the chicken. The original Mansaf will have the cooked head of the goat, placed at its centre. This is usually offered to the most important or valued guest by the host as a symbol of respect and great hospitality.

Served in a large serving tray (Sider)

Traditionally, ready-to-eat Mansaf is placed in a large serving tray (Sider) as it is tradition for all to be served from one dish. Mansaf is traditionally eaten with the fingertips of the right hand, while the left hand is placed behind the back. The host will keep on drenching the rice with cooked Jameed (yoghurt sauce) for his guests to enjoy a moistened bite. by doing so, the host is also ensuring best hospitality and celebrating the obviously valued guests.

As a token of utmost hospitality the host will keep drenching
the rice with cooked Jameed (yoghurt sauce)

Those are the traditions, which many still carry out today. But the symbolism of Mansaf still remains that of respect, utmost hospitality and appreciation for guests. It is therefore served when you are being celebrated and welcomed into a Jordanian Home, and always advisable that you express understanding that they have gone above and beyond to make you feel welcomed and appreciated.

With that said, please feel free to use cutlery, should you not wish to eat with your hands. I personally use cutlery and there is no shame in that. I also do not place a goat's head in the centre of the dish! Moreover, and to make it healthier, I do not use Samen Baladi (Ghee), instead I use olive oil! Yes, I do!!! & everyone loves it! :)

I love Mansaf... 
Here is how it's cooked 
(slightly different from the original recipe, this is how I cook it)....

For Dima's Mansaf Recipe
You Need
5 Kg Goat or Lamb meat pieces on the bone
2 prepared Jameed Balls
2Kg Yoghurt (natural yoghurt, Robe)
Shrak Bread (thin, large
bread placed under and above
1 large white onion, finely chopped
3 heaped tbsp Starch or cornflour
3 ltrs water
4 whole cardamom seeds
1 tbsp black pepper seeds
2 bay leaves
2 tsp mistka
2 small cinnamon sticks
2 whole cloves
Salt to taste (remember the Jameed is already salted)
2 cups assorted toasted or fried nuts (almonds & pine nuts)
Shrak bread (thin, large bread found at supermarkets and bakeries)

For Rice
You Need
8 cups medium grain rice
1.5 ltrs broth (from This recipe)
1/2 tsp ground turmeric or Osfor
Salt & Black pepper to taste
A dash of Olive oil

the night before cooking, break up the Jameed balls and soak with enough water to cover

A day ahead, Break up the Jameed Balls, and soak in enough water to cover, wrap with nylon and refrigerate.

Start by making the broth and cooking the meat

Start by cooking the meat and making the broth. First sweat the chopped onions along with the whole spices in olive oil, or ghee if using. When translucent but not browned, add the meat pieces, bay leaf and season with a little salt. Cook stirring for 5 minutes to seal and slightly brown the meat. Add enough water to cover and bring to a boil. 

Once boiling, reduce heat to low and simmer for about 3 hours. (the prolonged cooking over low heat, makes for an extra tender and juicy meat). Keep skimming the foam (gray scum) that forms at the top. Using a metal spoon or mini sieve, fish the scum out, throughout the cooking time. 

Once done, remove meat pieces from broth and place in a separate bowl. In a large cooking pot, drain the broth over a large sieve, and discard the onions, and spices. Return the meat to the broth and Bring to a gentle boil. (the water should be 1/3 the size of the meat for the 5kg about 3 Ltrs of broth)

After blending the Jameed will look like yoghurt in its original state

Meanwhile, Blend the Jameed with its soaking liquid, add a little water if it appears too dry or too thick. After blending the Jameed should look like yoghurt in its original state. Pour over the simmering broth and stir to incorporate all. and leave to simmer.

Meanwhile, blend the 2 Kg yoghurt with the corn starch until well incorporated. Add to the broth and Jameed mixture, and stir to mix all very well. Bring to a gentle boil and reduce the heat, simmer stirring occasionally for 45 minutes - 1 hour.

While the Jameed is simmering, Make the rice, like you would any rice.
Rub the rice with turmeric or Osfor, salt and black pepper. Stir fry the drained rice, with a heated dash of olive oil till coated. Add the broth and stir to encorporate. Then cook till the rice is puffed and has no bite.

To Assemble Mansaf

Place bread on serving tray, and pour a little
cooked Jameed on top

Place Shrak bread on top of the serving tray (Sider). Pour a little cooked Jameed on top to moisten. Then Pour the cooked rice on top, and spread around to cover the serving tray.

Place the meat pieces on top of the rice to cover the whole tray. Then top with the toasted nuts. I personally add cooked minced meat on top of it all, as I find that it tastes delicious with the rice, but also looks fab!

Pour a little cooked Jameed on top of the meat and cover all with another layer of Shrak bread to keep warm and steaming. Pour the Jameed in a large bowl, to ladle over the rice as you serve.

To recap...
Add caption

Serve immediately, and devour! Goes great with spring onions, and pickles...
Ramadan Kareem!

Thank you Auntie Nadra for your help with the info about Mansaf's Origins, Traditions and evolution. I had no idea! :)

***If you liked this post and found the information useful, I would love to hear your comments below, so do let me hear from you.
Love, Dima :)
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