William Shakespeare wrote it best, “tis an ill cook that cannot lick his own fingers”, and I bet if he ever had a chance to eat middle-eastern food, he’d be licking all his fingers clean. The food in Middle-east is as lavish and glamorous in taste and presentation as the life of Middle East itself. The food has minimum spice and almost no heat to it and yet the flavours take you to the moon and back. I come from an Indo-Pak background and have always been accustomed to the heat of spices and hotness of green chillies or curry masala’s, don’t get me wrong, I love my Indo-Pak food but I will probably trade it for Middle-eastern food any day. Growing up in Saudi Arabia, food such as Shawarma, Kabsa, Mandi, Muttabaq, Flafils were our families go-to meals when my mom just wanted to take a day off from cooking. The world renowned 11-spice Al-Baik is a pioneered conception and innovation of Saudi Arabia and no fried chicken in the world, be in competition would be far-fetched, come even close to being as succulent as that. Al-baik hands down takes the crown. I am without a doubt a true patriot of Middle-eastern food, as Kin Yutang says, “what is patriotism but the love of the food one ate as a child”.
Hence, which brings me to Mandi. All my childhood, Mandi made me the happiest. I used to gobble up the platter like a hungry predator eating up it’s prey as if starved for days. This recipe is not at all authentic. It is my inspired take on the original recipe and it is pretty awesome in flavour and it will forever hold my heart not just because it’s Mandi but because my whole beautiful childhood is affiliated with it. Everytime I make this, I fall victim to reminiscence and a gush of memories of growing up in the glamorous world of Middle-east encapsulates me. It is the kind of food I cherish and such food are gifts “and should be treated reverentially, romanced and ritualized and seasoned with memory” (Chris Bojalian, Secret of Eden).
Mandi is widely popular in the Gulf, Arabian peninsula, Egypt and Turkey. It originated from Yemen. Originally it is made with Lamb but I made it in Chicken because I’m just a chicken meat fan more than anything else. I serve this with what I call a cocktail of rice because I infuse the rice with Mandi spices and a bit of Nandos peri peri sauce just to give it a little bit of a kick. Serve this with some onions and a tomato sauce and you’ll be licking your plate clean. What can I say, I take my meals, especially, Middle-eastern meals, very seriously. If I am meeting two cultural flavours together, I make sure, their harmony is enticing, enticing enough to marry varied cultural flavours together coherently. I agree with Oscar Wilde when he said, “I hate people who don’t take their meals seriously, it’s so shallow of them” (Importance of being Earnest) and even though it’s not authentic but it will give you a run for your flavours, very seriously.
One Note, please do not feel intimidated by the spices and the cooking method of the dish. Though it may seem extremely difficult to make but it honestly isn’t. Take it from me, I bake this twice almost every month. It is super easy. Once you have marinated and put your chicken in the oven, the oven is doing all the work for you. The rice is super quick to make and doesn’t require a lot of effort. So, if you read the ingredients and decide not to go through, I strongly urge you try it atleast once to see how easy it really is. You will never know until you don’t try it.
As you bake this, your whole house will be engulfed in Middle-eastern aromas. As soon as the chicken comes out of the oven the fragrance hits you hard, makes you salivate. The proud crisp exterior with it’s moist interior invites you dearly. Although, what completes this dish is the onion served as salad with it. The sharpness of the onion parallel to the piquant collage of flavours of the rice and chicken, enhances the sapid taste of the dish.
This is one good-looking dish with succulent flavours. So, go on and have a soiree.
1 whole chicken with skin
Mandi Spice Mix ~
1 tbsp Coriander seeds
1 tbsp Cinnamon stick
1 tbsp Cumin seeds
1 tsp Cloves
1 tsp Turmeric Powder
1 tbsp cardamom pods
1 dried Lemon (if you can’t find one, omit it)
Mandi Marination ~
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp crushed black pepper
1 tbsp Mandi Spice Mix
1 tsp Oregano
1 tsp Parsley
1 tsp Thyme
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp Butter
1 bunch of Vine Cherry Tomatoes
Mandi Rice ~
4 tbsp Oil
1 Onion chopped
1 Green chilli chopped
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaf
1 tsp Salt
1 tbsp Ketchup
2 tbsp Nandos Peri Peri sauce
1 tbsp Mandi Spice Mix
Handful of Parsley
1 Green Bell Pepper
1 cup Rice
1. Prepare the Mandi Spice Mix
- In a fry pan, dry roast the cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, coriander, cloves and the dried Lemon (if you cannot find the dried Lemon just leave it out).
- Once the spices have roasted put them in a grinder and blitz them all together into a powder form.
- Last add the turmeric to it. Put it in a jar for use.
2. Prepare the Mandi
- Pre-heat the oven to 180* C.
- Wash and pat dry the chicken.
- Rub the chicken with salt, black pepper, dried parsley, oregano and thyme, Mandi Spice Mix, lemon juice and butter.
- Leave to marinate for an hour.
- Place the chicken in a kitchen foil and add the vine cherry tomatoes on each side (this again is optional, you can just place a single small tomato in if you can’t find cherry tomatoes).
- wrap the chicken like an envelop and seal it to make sure no steam escapes.
- Bake in the oven for an hour.
- After an hour, take the Chicken out and remove it from the foil and place it into another baking tray.
- Take a few dollop of butter and drop them on top of the chicken.
- Place the chicken back into the oven for another 10 minutes, preferably under the grill, to make the chicken crust crispy.
- Now, Remove the tomato from the foil and place it in the blender.
- Carefully pour all the juices, released from the chicken, into the blender with the tomato.
- Blitz it together. This is your Mandi sauce to serve Mandi with.
3. Prepare the Rice
- In a cooking pot, heat up the oil and add chopped onions, chopped green chillies, cinnamon, cloves and bat leaf. Saute the onions until light soft. Do not brown the onions.
- Add the carrots and green bell pepper and cook for another 2-3 minutes.
- Add 2 cups of water to the pot.
- Add salt, ketchup, Nandos Peri Peri Sauce, Mandi Spice Mix and Parsley and let it come to a boil.
- Add the washed rice and let it cool until all the water has evaporated and the rice is almost done.
- Turn the heat to low and steam the rice for another 10-15 minutes.
- Serve the Mandi with the rice, Tomato Mandi Sauce and Onions.
Happy Foodieating ~