Sometimes, a dish can be so legendary it can create a party atmosphere in and of itself. One iconic dish in this category is Mansaf! This regal dish of turmeric rice and delicate bread is topped with tender lamb, crunchy toasted nuts, and a rich yogurt sauce. This dish has been the centerpiece of countless celebrations, from weddings to baby showers, and has even helped resolve tribal disputes between families over the centuries.
Mansaf is considered the national dish of Jordan, though it is also hugely popular among Palestinians, Lebanese, and Syrians as well. My grandfather spent quite a bit of time living in Jordan, and carried the Mansaf tradition to our family, often entertaining guests with this signature dish. I remember as a child my grandfather making mansaf for one of the Vatican’s archbishops who came over for dinner. My grandfather beamed with pride as the archbishop gushed that this was the most delicious dish he had ever tasted.
To really make a statement with this iconic dish, it is important to layer every ingredient artfully into a sort of mansaf mountain. Traditionally the yogurt sauce was made with “kishik” made from drained fermented yogurt or sour milk formed into pellets. While the pungent flavor of kishik is an acquired taste, regular yogurt makes a great substitute as it’s milder in flavor and easier to find. Ayran, which is a Turkish yogurt drink, really takes the sauce to the next level.
There is a reason why this dish has two kinds of carbs: the turmeric rice, and the Markook bread, otherwise known as Shrak bread. The delicate bread absorbs the sauce and offers a different texture and taste from the rice–somehow the combination works harmoniously. This dish is also quite hearty and a modest portion will put you over the edge of fullness sooner than you might think.
Some people like to eat this dish as a soup, with the rice and meat on the side; others like to throw everything together. In the early to mid 20th century, Jordanians would all gather around the large dish and dig in with their well washed hands, shaping the meat, rice and bread into spheres before popping it into their mouths. Whether you want to use utensils or not, Mansaf is a celebratory dish meant to be shared with a large crowd.
In my latest video below, I share a special experience of learning how to make this dish from a Jordanian born mansaf master. Saif, who is the owner of Mazra Restaurant in San Bruno, California, made it his mission to keep his traditions alive through his exquisite dining menu. My first bite was like a time capsule, transporting me to the day I ate this dish with my loving grandfather, who passed away 24 years ago. The lamb was soft like butter, the bread was delicate and soaked with a midly sour yogurt sauce, the rice so soft, and the almonds were perfectly toasted and crunchy. Funny how a special meal can conjure up so many memories and bring loved ones back into our lives. This dish takes so much effort to make, that Saif offers it only once a week: Fridays after 1:00 pm. To see the whole experience, click on the video below. Said was also kind enough to share a recipe which I am also posting if you are adventurous enough to try this at home!
Ingredients: For Lamb Meat
- 2lb Lamb Bone-In Cuts (Lamb Chops or Loin Chops work great)
- Water for Boiling Meat
- 3 Bay Leaves
- 1 Medium Cinnamon Stick
- 2 Cardamon Pods
- 1 Red Onion
Ingredients: For Fermented Yoghurt Sauce
- 1GL- Ayran Yoghurt
- 2.2lb – Jameed Kishk Concentrate
- 1 Cup – Lamb Stock
- 2 Tablespoon – Turmeric Powder
- 1 Teaspoon – Cardamon Power
- 2– Chicken Maggi Cubes
- 1 Spoon- Flour (Only needed if you need help thickening the sauce)
- 3 Cups – Parboiled Rice
- 6 Cups – Water
- 1tsp – Salt
- 1tsp – Turmeric powder
Ingredients: For the Topping
- 2- Parsley Bunch finely chopped
- 1/4lb – Slivered Almonds and Pine Nuts Toasted on skillet
- 1-Sheet of Markook Flat Bread
For the Lamb
- Put the lamb in water, bring to a boil and add the ingredients. 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.Continuously scoop away any foam on the surface and discard. We want the surface of the pot to be as clear as possible from any foam. This process removes all Gamey smell and taste from the lamb. Once the meat is done, pour through a sieve and preserve about 3 cups of water. Set the meat aside on a plate for later.
For the Fermented Yogurt Sauce
- Turn Burner on High. Place Ayran Yoghurt and Jameed Concentrate in Stock Pot. Add 1 Cup of Lamb Stock. During this stage, it is very important to continuously stir the pot until the mixture comes to a rolling boil. This prevents any separation or clumping. Once the Sauce boils, stop stirring and add all remaining ingredients/spices Reduce heat to a Medium Low temperature. Add the lamb chunks to the sauce
For the Rice
- In a pot, put 3 cups rice, 6 cups water, 1 tsp salt and a tsp of Turmeric. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until all the water has gone.
For the Bread
- Visit a local international market and ask for MARKOOK bread. This a very thin flatbread. Also found on Amazon!
- Toast your almonds & Pine Nuts in a frying pan with a little olive oil, set aside. Place bread flat onto a large Platter. Ladle some of the sauce over the bread on the platter. 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. Spread Toasted Almonds, Pine Nuts and parsley over the entire dish.