Location: Middle East, northwest of Saudi Arabia
Population: 10 million
Geography: A mix of arable land and desert, with a short coast on the Dead Sea
Signature flavours: Lamb, rice, yoghurt, eggplant, nuts, cinnamon, tomato, garlic
Eric discovered plenty of resources online. The first recipe he chose was the royal kebabs. He thought it sounded challenging and tasty. He found out early on in his research that mansaf is the national dish, usually made with lamb and served over buttery, cinnamon-spiced rice. He decided to make a vegetarian version, and though he originally worried the two might be quite similar because of the ingredient overlap (specifically tomato and eggplant), they ended up with very different flavour profiles. He rounded off the menu with a tomato side dish, and a dessert and accompanying coffee.
Vegetarian Mansaf: A tomato, eggplant, and mushroom stew, served over cinnamon spiced rice and topped with a warm yoghurt and roasted garlic sauce.
Prep and cooking time: 60 min
Royal Kebabs: Beef and tomato wrapped in roasted eggplant, topped with toasted pine nuts and fresh mint.
Prep and cooking time: 75 min
Fried Tomatoes with Garlic: Slices of tomato, fried in olive oil with garlic, hot peppers, and parsley.
Prep and cooking time: 10 min
Namoura Cake: A semolina cake drenched in a syrup of sugar and rose water, and decorated with almonds. This dessert is an ancient dish of Egyptian origin (where it is known as basbousa), and is enjoyed throughout the Middle East. Eric has had his eye on this recipe for a while and was excited to finally put it to use for this assignment.
Prep and cooking time: 2 hours (including rising time)
Qahwa: Sweet, milky coffee made from finely ground beans, spiced with cardamom.
Prep and cooking time: 5 min
Eric found all he need at Bulk Barn and our local FreshCo. Pine nuts are notoriously expensive — about $32 per pound, but by purchasing them in bulk, he was able to get just the amount he needed.
After all was said and done (and laid out on the table), Eric fell into his chair and declared that Jordan was one of his most challenging assignments so far. Both the mansaf and the kebabs were laborious dishes, with multiple steps, a lot of chopping, and specific and sometimes fiddly presentations. The kebabs in particular gave him a hard time, what with shaping the soy beef into logs and folding them into thin pieces of roasted eggplant. That said, everything we ate was outstanding. The kebabs were meaty and tomato-y with a little cinnamon spice. A touch of fresh mint and the crunch and toasty-ness of the pine nuts rounded off each bite.
The mansaf, served in layers of rice, vegetables, and a yoghurt topping, was a beautiful combination of textures and spices, with the tangy garlic sauce coming through strongly, followed by the tomato-y and onion-y vegetable mix, and finishing with the cinnamon buttery-ness of the rice.
The tomatoes, fried up in garlic, jalapeño, and fresh parsley, were light and juicy. They concluded the savoury portion of the meal perfectly.
I am not usually a fan of floral desserts — why people enjoy things like Turkish delight is a mystery to me — but the namoura cake was very good. With just a hint of floral-ness, the dessert had a pleasant sweetness with an almond in each bite. Dipped into hot cups of sweet coffee spiced with cardamom, it was an excellent way to finish our Jordanian feast.
Disclaimer: I’m not a professional chef. I’m just a passionate cook with a curiosity for flavours I’ve never tried. For great recipes from gifted local cooks, follow the links above.