Mansaf Musakhan - The Nomadic Foodie
Friday, May 7, 2010
Friday, May 7, 2010
is for Jordan
O RL D I
A R OU N
OOD morning, readers! The deadline for
delivery of this week’s
article turned out to be
exactly the same day
that I was flying to Amman, the capital of Jordan, for a few days. Apart from a pleasant holiday in the
Red Sea resort of Aqaba a few years ago, I had not been to Jordan
for almost two decades, and was eager to see if it had changed
much since I drove there from Baghdad way back in 1990.
Jordan has never quite attracted the number of visitors as that
of its neighbours, which is a shame, as the country has a great deal
of charm. The vast majority of tourists to the broader region are
lured by the splendours of the Nile, the Pyramids and the magnificent history of Egypt. Others are more attracted to the hedonistic
charms of Beirut and Lebanon, seeking the elegant lifestyle that
Lebanon had in its heyday. To the north, Syria, - with its ruins
of Palmyra, and the magnificent cities of Aleppo and Damascus,
(two of the oldest continuously inhabited cities of the world) - attracts those interested in the wonderful, rich history that the region
holds in abundance.
And yet Jordan has so much to offer in terms of history, culture
and diverse, natural beauty. From the vast, unspoilt Roman ruins
of Jerash to its modern capital, built on seven hills; from the
heavy, saline waters of the Dead Sea, to the desert and wonderful
King’s Highway in the south; and from the kaleidoscope of corals
and aquatic life of the Red Sea port of Aqaba, to the magnificent
World Heritage site of Petra, the country can more than adequately cater to all visitors’ tastes.
Amman itself is a vibrant Arab city – a village of barely 2,000
inhabitants in the late 19th century, the city has since expanded
exponentially and is now a bustling metropolis of almost two
million – not quite the sprawling urban metropolis of Cairo or
Damascus, but it has started in some ways to catch up. Nor does it
have history on every corner, although downtown Amman is fun:
unpretentious, and with scattered historical ruins on a number of
streets, including a delightful Roman amphitheatre at the heart of
the downtown area. On my latest visit, last week, I took a hotel
just one minute from the theatre and awoke every morning to an
impressive view of the cascading steps of the theatre and its colOfficial name:
umns. A few minutes’ walk away, on the edge of a lively fruit and
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
vegetable market, was the recently restored Roman Nymphaeum,
built in AD 191. The original complex housed stone columns,
mosaics, stone carvings, and statues of nymphs, the mythical
5.4 million (estimated: 2006)
AROUND THE WORLD
IN 26 RECIPES
girls who lived close to rivers, although there was no sign of any
nymphs when I visited last week!
Amman is a city built for its inhabitants, rather than its visitors.
Amman (population: 1.9 million)
There is no aggressive hawking of tourist trinkets, though there
are the occasional stalls selling old wedding silver, beads, and a
Other main cities:
few coins – amazingly intact considering
Aqaba, Jerash, Irbid, Madaba
they are supposedly 2,000 years old!
As a souvenir of my year spent in
Main tourist attractions:
Iraq some time ago, I picked
Petra (ancient Nabatean city carved out of rose-coloured rock);
up a 25-dinar note from the
The Dead Sea; Mount Nebo; Red Sea resort of Aqaba; various
time of Saddam – itself a
Biblical and Roman sites
part of recent, regional
There are several disThere are direct flights from Muscat and the flying time from here
tinct districts in Amman,
is just under 4 hours. Several budget airlines operate from the
each one built on a difUAE – flying time is approximately 3 hours
ferent hill, which each,
in its turn, descends
down winding roads and
By Mike Harrison
slopes to the city centre.
is a smart,
containing swish hotels,
patisseries and ice cream parlours. Rainbow Street, with its
cafés, pizzerias and smart cars driven by Amman’s jeunesse
dorée is a nice place for a visit, but I personally prefer a bit of
souq-plunging and street life, so Downtown was just right for
The streets downtown come alive at Maghreb prayers
where everything happens on the pavements: Iraqi ladies,
though fewer than before, sit on street corners selling bundles
of second-hand clothes, piled up haphazardly; noise pounds
out from DVD players, their tapes of wedding music a-blaring
next to banana stalls with hundreds of bunches of fruit swaying in the evening breeze, almost in rhythm to the music. The
pavements overflow with functional products: plastic sockets,
bulbs, sandals, brass pots, tee shirts of all sizes, lurid coloured
dresses for a special occasion, and butchers displaying meat
There are nut shops selling all manner of sweet, sugarcoated almonds, pistachios, melon seeds and roasted chick
peas. There are spice shops selling fresh and dried thyme and
sage, dried hibiscus and loomi (dried limes) – a speciality of
Oman, but also of Basra in southern Iraq. There are pyramids
of gold-red saffron strands. And the aroma of dozens of types
of fresh za’atar – the Middle Eastern mix of thyme and sesame
that we like to use to flavour our croissants here in Oman!
Every fourth or fifth store seems to have a huge coffee grinder
and heavy baskets of fresh beans. One of them advertises its
wares thus: ‘We keep roasting the coffee beans until they pop
twice – once from the heat, once from the heart’.
I spend a happy few hours wandering the vegetable
markets, allowing the aroma of the fresh herbs to assail my
nostrils. Cabbages, cucumbers and radishes are all in season,
intermingling with splashes of ten different hues of green:
sage, mint, thyme, and fresh vine leaves waiting to be turned
into dolma, stuffed with rice and meat, and rolled into fingersized bites.
Over half of the population of the city is Palestinian, and
their influence is in evidence in the shawarma and falafel
stalls, leaning out onto the pavements with their vats of hot
oil a-bubbling. With a local friend, I visit ‘Al Quds’, a popular
Palestinian restaurant, and we gorge on silken moutabel and
hummus, followed by a hearty bowl of lentil soup scooped up
with fresh pitta bread, before moving on to a plate of fareekah
(pearl barley) with chunks of lamb. Osama samples the house
musakhan, special oven-roasted chicken coated with bittersweet sumaq powder and drizzled with toasted pine nuts. All
of this is then washed down with a glass of tamarind juice for
Osama, and a freshly-pressed sugar cane juice for me. It’s one
of the more popular street drinks.
But the evening’s repast would not be complete without a
visit to Habiba’s, and a plate of kunafa, the hot, melted, sweet
cheese dish served dripping with honey syrup and an orange
crust. It’s certainly not for the faint or weak-hearted! But like
all cholesterol and calorie-filled dishes, it’s very naughty, and
deliciously nice! Kunafa, made with the best Nabulsi cheese,
is also a bit of a Jordanian national institution.
For today’s recipes, I am featuring the two dishes which
probably represent the food of the country’s history and traditions best. Mansaf, with its ingredients of plain, boiled meat
soaked in a slightly pungent, but distinctive sauce made from
dried goat’s yoghurt, would seem to reflect the Bedu roots of
the Jordanian. Musakhan, the Palestinian national dish, baked
in a special tanoor oven, might be seen to reflect a more sedentary, agricultural lifestyle, and attachment to the land.
My thanks to Chef Mamoun of Al Qurum Resort for preparing for us today’s taste of Jordan.
Chef Mamoun Ahmad Yousef
Ahlan wa Sahlan!
Mansaf is the most traditional of
Jordanian dishes. The main ingredient which gives the dish its distinctive flavour is jameed, yoghurt made
from fresh goat’s milk which is dried
into large lumps the size of a coffee
cup. The quality of the jameed will
also determine the quality of the dish.
Different areas in Jordan prepare
their own homemade jameed, the
most famous one being from the
town of Kerak, where it is supposed
to have a fine, lighter colour. You can
substitute the jameed with laban, but
the dish will lose a certain amount of
2 kg lamb meat, cut into large chunks.
2 lumps (approx. 200g) jameed: Broken and
soaked in boiled water a day in advance.
4 cups short grain rice.
4 tbsps ghee
½ cup meat stock.
pine nuts and almonds for decoration
One day in advance: Break the jameed into
small peaces and soak in boiled water.
Blend this mixture with 3 litres water until
thin and milky: the liquid is now called
marees. Return the marees to the boil, adding 1 litre water, then add the lamb pieces,
the ghee and meat stock and leave to boil
gently for at least 90 mn, until the meat is
tender and the jameed has dissolved.
Prepare the rice separately, spooning 2
tbsps ghee over the cooked rice at the end
for added flavour.
Spread the rice onto a large circular presentation tray, remove the cooked lamb from
the sauce mix (called sharab) and place
over the rice. Place the remaining stock
or sharab in a serving bowl alongside the
tray. Pan-roast the pine nuts and almonds
in a little butter until golden brown, then
sprinkle over the mansaf before serving.
A cup of sharab is also offered as an accompanying drink for the meal.
What mansaf is to Jordanians, musakhan is to Palestinians. Musakhan
is the Palestinian national dish, and
is ideally cooked in a special tanoor
clay oven that each family traditionally has at the bottom of the garden!
Hand-made oven bread is soaked in
chicken stock and the chicken pieces,
marinated in bittersweet sumaq
powder, are then roasted and placed
over the bread. My friend Suzanne
Husseini, the TV chef, makes wonderful little musakhan tartelettes, the
recipe for which will be in her new
book, out shortly. Look out for it!
1 whole chicken, cut into 4-6 pieces
2 tsp lemon juice
½ cup plain flour
1 tsp vinegar
Large onions, finely chopped
2 tsps sumaq
Dash of ground cardamom
2-3 tbsps olive oil
Musakhan or taboon Arabic bread
Handful pine nuts
Salt and pepper
Coat the chicken pieces in a little flour,
lemon and vinegar and then wash and pat
Marinate the chicken in a mixture of lemon
juice, olive oil, sumaq, cardamom, salt and
pepper for at least 2 hours. Fry the onions
gently, adding salt and pepper and a little
sumaq to taste.
Add the chicken pieces then transfer to
a pre-heated oven and roast at 180ºc for
about 40 minutes or until golden brown.
Meanwhile, cut the bread into wide strips
to go under the chicken.
Moisten the bread with spoonfuls of stock
from the chicken dish and add a layer of onions. Top each piece of bread with a piece
of chicken, sprinkle with pine nuts and a
little sumaq and return to the oven for a
few minutes until the sides of the bread are
gently toasted. Serve with yoghurt and / or
a side salad.
has worked for the
Sheraton hotel chain
in Muscat for longer than he
cares to remember, and has
helped me out on numerous
occasions in the past! Always
Based at the Al Qurum
Resort while the Sheraton in
Ruwi is undergoing renovation work, he is responsible
for outside catering, specialising in weddings and other ceremonies requiring elaborate
Arabic buffets. Always ready
to help out when this writer
requires some Middle Eastern
specialities at short notice,
Mamoun was happy to comply when I asked him for help
with some specific Jordanian
Mamoun lives here with
his wife and three children,
who have grown up in Muscat
and most definitely call it
home. ‘They must be halfOmani by now,’ I quip. ‘No’,
he replies, quick as a flash,
My special thanks to Mamoun for today’s Mansaf and