Today I'm sharing a recipe for a truly classic middle eastern dish, to celebrate the sale of the 300th copy of the Taste of Freedom cookbook. This little book has now raised a massive £1,500 for Doctors of the World, a team of wonderful doctors and nurses providing urgent medical aid to refugees around the world.
The recipe was donated by Abdul, a Bedouin we met in Palmyra during our Syrian holiday in 2010.
Buy the Taste of Freedom ebook for £5 here.
Abdul and his family treated us to two nights in the desert, camping under the stars. They fed us some really delicious food. The dish that really stood out was a meat and rice dish called Mensef (sometimes spelled Mansaf). The Jordanian national dish, Mensef is served throughout the Middle East but is especially popular with the Bedouin. It’s often served up on huge plates to feed a big group. There a few stages to the recipe and the quantities aren’t precise, but it’s not a difficult dish to do – just tweak the quantities depending on how many you’re feeding, keep tasting everything and checking its cooking stage. This recipe uses chicken but you can also use lamb.
Abdul now lives in the UK. Like so many others in Syria he had no choice but to leave the life he loved in Palmyra when life became too dangerous there. He married his British wife Luci a couple of years ago and they have a 2 year old daughter, Aiya.
1 onion (chopped small)
garlic (2 cloves)
3 tbsp of tomato puree (depending on amount of chicken you have)
1 whole bulb of garlic
1 tsp all spice
1 tbsp olive oil
lemon juice of 2 lemons
2 cups of rice
1 tbsp of sunflower oil
Bits and pieces for flavour and decoration
Blanched almonds slightly toasted in a frying pan.
Peas cooked al dente
Put a little oil into a large saucepan and heat. Add the chopped onion and garlic and gently sauté for about 3 minutes.
Add the pieces of chicken to the oil, garlic and onions for 5 minutes. Then pour enough water over the chicken to fill the saucepan to the top. Bring to the boil and then add the all spice, salt and pepper. (add a chicken stock cube if you want but I prefer not to)
Boil for around 50 minutes (depending on your chicken pieces) and then check to make sure it’s cooked before turning off the heat.
When the chicken is cooked, remove it from the saucepan and take care to keep the liquid.
Pre-heat oven to gas mark 5/medium to high heat.
Peel and crush the garlic cloves and mix with the tomato puree. Add the pepper, allspice, olive oil and lemon juice and mix altogether.
Thoroughly cover each piece of chicken with the tomato marinade and leave the pieces to marinade for 30 minutes.
Put the chicken on a baking tray into a pre-heated oven for about 20 minutes on a medium to high heat just to crispen the outside of the skin.
Rinse and clean the rice before hand. Then put a tbsp of oil into a large saucepan and add the rice. Make sure the rice is nicely coated in oil. Heat gently for about 1 minute.
Then add the chicken stock (twice as much as the rice). Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat until the liquid is simmering. Place the lid onto the pan and simmer gently for about 10 minutes or until all the water has gone.
Gently bring to the boil some frozen or fresh peas and add them to the toasting almonds while still cooking. Be careful not to burn the almonds.
Scrape the rice around the inside of the saucepan with a spoon and mix the rice gently around.
Place the rice onto a large mensef style plate and place the chicken pieces decoratively on top.
Sprinkle the almonds and peas on top of the chicken and rice. You can also add some chopped cucumber and tomato or whatever you like really – mainly for taste, colour and texture.