Mansaf – Lamb in Yoghurt Sauce

Mansaf (Arabic: منسف‎) is a traditional Jordanian and Palestinian dish made of lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yoghurt and served with rice or bulgur. It is the national dish of Jordan. To a lesser degree it is also found in parts of Iraq, Syria, and Saudia Arabia. The name of the dish comes from the term “large tray” or “large dish”.

Preparation of Mansaf

The lamb is cooked in a broth made with a fermented then dried yoghurt-like product called jameed, and served on a large platter with a layer of flatbread (markook or shrak) topped with rice and then meat, garnished with almonds and pine nuts, and then sauce poured over all. A spice mixture of Baharat, and in Jordan, herbs called hwajeh, add distinctive flavour, with regional variations.

Regions and Variants

The cities of Al Karak and As-Salt and their countrysides are reputed to make the best mansaf in Jordan. Other variants of the dish also exist and are adapted to the regional tastes and circumstance. These include fish mansaf, found in the south around the port city of Aqaba. An urban, less ceremonial adaptation of mansaf using non-dried yoghurt is called shakreyyeh. It is sometimes cooked with poultry instead of lamb and is common in the northern part of Jordan.

Mansaf - Lamb in Yoghurt Sauce
  • 2 kg lamb, preferably with bones, cut into thick pieces
  • 2 cups plain yoghurt
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 egg white, beaten with a fork until frothy
  • 2 teaspoons cornflour
  • ¼ cup clarified butter
  • ¼ cup pine nuts
  • ¼ cup slivered almonds
  • water
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1½ teaspoons turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon allspice
  • 1 small piece cinnamon stick
  • 3 cups basmati rice, rinsed
  1. Place yoghurt (or jameed mixed with water) in a heavy-based pan.
  2. Add yoghurt, frothy egg white, cornflour and 2 teaspoons salt to pan and stir gently just enough to blend. It is very important to use a wooden ladle and to stir in the same direction. So, if you stir to the left, you must continue stirring the yoghurt mixture to the left throughout the whole cooking process. Otherwise, the yoghurt will curdle.
  3. Place pan over medium heat and stir constantly with wooden ladle. Heat the yoghurt mixture until it begins to boil, stirring continuously in the same direction. Lower the heat and leave to boil gently, uncovered, for 3-5 minutes until thick.
  4. Place lamb in a pan and cover with cold water. Bring slowly to boil. Skim the surface to remove particles. When well skimmed and boiling, add salt and paper to taste. Cover and boil gently for 30 minutes.
  5. Heat butter in frying pan and add pine nuts and almonds. Fry until golden and remove pine nuts to a plate, draining butter back into the pan.
  6. Add onion to pan and fry gently until transparent. Stir in turmeric, allspice and cinnamon bark and cook for another 2 minutes. Add this mixture to the boiling lamb.
  7. After lamb has been cooking for 1 hour, remove lid and let liquid reduce until it only half-covers lamb.
  8. When reduced, add yoghurt sauce, shaking pan to blend it with liquid. Let the mixture boil gently on low heat until lamb is tender and sauce is thick.
  9. In the meantime, prepare the rice as directed on package.
  10. Once rice is cooked, remove it from pot and place it in a large round serving platter, then spread half of the nuts on top of rice.
  11. When lamb is done, remove the meat chunks with a slotted spoon and place on top of rice and nuts platter. Then sprinkle the remaining nuts over entire platter.
  12. Place the cooked yoghurt in a large serving bowl.
  13. The traditional way to serve mansaf is on one dish with individual bowls of yoghurt sauce and no utensils. Each person would have a dedicated space on the dish from which to eat with his or her right fingers.

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