Mansaf, one of the most important Arab recipes

Mansaf, one of the most important Arab recipes
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Mansaf, one of the most important Arab recipes

When you think of the romantic lifestyle of the Arab in the desert, you think of camels, black and white stallions, heavy black tents, flowing robes, and a silver platter of one of the Arab World’s favorite recipes, Mansaf (Mensif, Mensiff). This lamb and rice dish heaped in delicious tasting jameed sauce of goat’s milk on a large platter covered in flattened oven-baked bread

By Ray Hanania

It’s a feast usually reserved for after-prayer gatherings on Friday for Muslims and Sunday for Christians, or as the centerpiece of a fabulous dinner commemorating a major religious holiday like the Eid al Adha forMuslims, or Christmas for Christians.

Whatever your religion — Muslims and Christians remain closest in the Middle East and Arab World than in any other part of the world — the one common denominator for any great feast is Mansaf (Mensif, Mensiff), an elaborate spread of succulent lamb chunks laid atop a heaping mound of rice, on a bed of oven-baked flat bread and a side bowl of Jameed, a sauce of fermented dried yogurt.

The meal is sprinkled with pine nuts or slivers of almonds browned in a skillet of extra Virgin Olive Oil.

The lamb is usually from the shoulder with the bone still in, making it easy to hold and eat.

Mansaf (mensiff) -- lamb, rice, toasted Syrian pita bread and jameed sauce -- popular as a holiday dish and the national dish of Jordan. Photo courtesy of Ray Hanania

Mansaf (mensif) — lamb, rice, toasted Syrian pita bread and Jameed sauce — popular as a holiday dish and the national dish of Jordan. Photo courtesy of Ray Hanania

Mansaf (Mensif) is popular in many bedouin Arab environments and a popular dish especially in Jordan and Palestine.

The tradition of the bedouin, is to eat with your hands, thus the very large serving dish that allows many people in one family or friends to sit around the plate and enjoy the meal. The guests reach out and scoop up rice, or grab a chunk of lamb shoulder and eat it.

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It taste best dipped in a small bowl of Jameed, usually placed next to the diner, or poured on top of the serving. To learn more about Jameed, click here.

Mansaf (mensiff) -- lamb, rice, toasted Syrian pita bread and jameed sauce -- popular as a holiday dish and the national dish of Jordan. Photo courtesy of Ray Hanania

Mansaf (mensif) — lamb, rice, toasted Syrian pita bread and Jameed sauce — popular as a holiday dish and the national dish of Jordan. Photo courtesy of Ray Hanania

For a list of Arab World and Middle East recipes, one of the best resources online is the Recipe Section on the website of Ziyad Brothers Importing, one of Chicago’s first Arabian food grocery stores at

Ingredients for Mansaf (Mensif, Mensiff)

  • 2 large containers of Ziyad brand Jameed
  • 6 pounds of lamb chunks (with bone preferred)
  • 1 diced onion
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • almond slices
  • pine nuts
  • 4 cups white rice
  • 1/2 dozen Syrian (flat) pita bread
  • 2 Tbsp of Sultan Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 ground cardamon pods
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • black pepper, salt to taste
  • 1 Tbsp cumin
  • saffron
  • minced garlic
  • 1/2 Tbsp turmeric
  • Bunch of Parsley
  • Directions for cooking Mensiff (Mansaf)

Cooking instructions

Mansaf is made in three steps, preparing the lamb, preparing the Jameed and preparing the rice.

Prepare the Lamb

Put the lamb chunks preferably with the bones (have the butcher cut the lamb shoulder into boned chunks) into a pot of water. Make sure the lamb is covered.

Add olive oil and spices. Boil the lamb up to two hours or until the lamb is fork tender.

Prepare the Jameed

You can purchase pre-made Liquid Jameed from Ziyad Brothers. Put in a pot and stir constantly. Bring to a boil, and then bring the flame down to a low heat and continue stirring. It takes about 60 minutes to properly prepare the Jameed sauce.

Prepare the rice

Mix the rice, water, olive oil, half the diced onion (with the remainder to be added to the rice after it is cooked). Add turmeric to the rice (gives it its yellow color). Add salt to taste. Add a pinch of Saffron.

When the rice and meal is near completion, add 2 Tblspns olive oil to a small frying pan and grill the pine nuts and/or almond slivers until brown.

Drain stock from lamb (juices from the lamb pot) and mix into the Jameed; add spices. Boil 10 minutes. Remove the cooked lamb and place on the side.


On a large round platter, lay the Pita Bread.

Use some of the Jameed-based stock to soak the bread, which will be the base of the presentation dish. (You want the bread to become soft but not too soupy).

Place the cooked rice on top of the Syrian Bread forming a pyramid. Sprinkle the freshly browned pine nuts and/or almond sliver around on top of the rice. Garnish with chopped parsley.

Place the jameed-based stock, hot, in a side bowl.

Place lamb either in a separate dish or on the side of the rice.

In Bedouin cultures, the meat is placed on the rice and the bedouins will eat the rice and the meat together with their hands. In Western Arab cultures, the rice is served on a plate with bread from the serving pan. Lamb meat is placed in the dish and the entire lamb and rice is covered in jameed sauce, spooned from the jameed serving plate.

Sahtein! (Enjoy the meal)

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Managing Writer at The Arab Daily News
RAY HANANIA — Columnist

Ray Hanania is an award winning political and humor columnist who analyzes American and Middle East politics, and life in general. He is an author of several books.

"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."

Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).

Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at, the, and at He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper,, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.

Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.

His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.

The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website, Hanania's columns also appeare in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.

Click here to send Ray Hanania and email.

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Visit this link to read Ray's column archive at the ArabNews,com
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