Lamb Mansaf

Here’s a dish guaranteed a small ripple of applause at any dinner party. This Jordanian national dish is just fabulous. The rice, which is cooked in lamb stock, is one of the tastiest things I’ve cooked this year. Utterly delicious. What makes the dish so successful is not only its earthy, fragrant tastes, but the mixture of textures, from the soft rice to the crunchy nuts that are liberally scattered all over the dish. It’s a hearty, filling meal that is perfect as the main attraction to any dinner spread.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter (or olive oil)
1 onion (chopped)
2 garlic cloves (chopped)
600g lean lamb (cut into bite sized pieces)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2cm piece cinnamon stick
1 heaped teaspoon tomato puree
salt & pepper
2 tablespoons natural Greek style yoghurt
1 cup basmati rice
¼ cup pine nuts
¼ cup unsalted cashew nuts
¼ cup unsalted pistachio nuts
¼ cup sliced almonds
½ cup fresh parsley (chopped)

Heat the butter (or oil) in a large saucepan over a moderate heat until just hot. Gently fry the onion, garlic, cinnamon and cumin for 7-8 minutes until soft and golden. Add the lamb and stir for 5 minutes. Pour in 700ml of water and tomato puree, season with salt & pepper and stir well. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, cover the pan and simmer gently for 1 hour until the meat is tender. Remove from the heat. Separate the solids from the liquid by pouring the lamb into a sieve. Retain the cooking liquid.

Place 2½ cups of the cooking liquid into a fresh pan along with a little more salt & pepper and bring to a simmer. Add the rice, and stir once. Reduce the heat to very low. Cover the pan and simmer very gently for 15-17 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed. Remove the lid and place a clean tea towel over the pan then return the lid tightly. Leave for 10-20 minutes to absorb the excess steam.

Meanwhile, dry fry all the nuts in a pan until lightly browned. Set aside to cool.

Combine the lamb and all that was strained with it (discard the cinnamon stick) in a saucepan with the yoghurt and 1/2 cup of the lamb cooking liquid. Over a moderate heat, bring this to a light simmer and cook for 4-5 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Arrange the rice into a low mound on a large platter then carefully arrange on top the lamb in yoghurt sauce. Scatter over the nuts and parsley generously and serve immediately. You can also serve lemon wedges alongside for your guests to use as they see fit. This dish should serve about 4 people.

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