Mandi is a rice and meat dish originating from Yemen. The meat (chicken, lamb, goat, or camel) used for Mandi is marinated in a special fragrant spice blend called Hawaij. Mandi is quite popular in Middle Eastern countries and is served as the main dish at special events like Eid, weddings, and other celebrations. What differentiates Mandi from other Arabic meat dishes is the cooking technique. Mandi is cooked in a special kind of underground clay oven.
Traditionally the meat is boiled in whole spices till it is tender, then the same spiced water is used to cook rice. The boiled meat is hung over the rice pot as it boils collecting all the drippings from the meat. The heat from the surrounding clay oven roasts the hanging meat, turning its skin golden and crispy.
As much as I love mandi, I cannot build a clay oven in my backyard to cook it the authentic way but using my handy old oven and homemade Hawaij spice blend, I was able to come up with a Mandi recipe so good, anyone and everyone who has tried my recipe, fell in love with this flavourful dish. No exaggeration, this recipe is just THAT good. If I were asked to describe Mandi in one word it would be ‘Aromatic’, as the smell from the roasting meat alone will have you enticed.
What I love about Hawaij spice mix is that it compliments the meat without overpowering the original meat flavour. It is extremely aromatic and gives off a beautiful intoxicating fragrance as it cooks. You can serve your Mandi with Basmati rice boiled in spiced water; however, I love pairing it with Saffron Rice. Saffron adds a little more fragrance and flavour to this extremely tasty dish.
Hawaij spice blend is a Yemeni spice mix made from cumin, coriander, cloves, cardamom, black peppercorns, and cinnamon. I was recently suggested by someone to add dried lemons to the spice mix. The addition of dried lemons did not alter the taste of the spice blend but added some citrusy notes to the fragrance without making it taste acidic which I liked, therefore I have added dried lemons to my original recipe. If you cannot find dried lemons, simply skip them as this spice blend taste amazing even without them.
Coming from Pakistan, I love spicy food and like tweaking recipes to suit my high spice tolerance. This Mandi recipe however is very mild and that is the beauty of it. The best way to enjoy Mandi is to savour its original mild flavor. This is one recipe I don’t want to spoil by adding any heat. This recipe is perfect as it is.
For Hawaij Spice Mix:
- Coriander Seeds 2 & 1/2 tbsp
- Cumin Seeds 2 & 1/2 tbsp
- Whole Black Peppercorns 2 tbsp
- Whole Green Cardamom 1 tbsp
- Whole Cloves 1 tsp
- Whole Cinnamon 2″ piece
- Dried Whole Lemon 1
For Marinating Chicken
- Skin-on Whole Chicken 1 (around 1 & 1/2 kg)
- Hawaij Spice Mix 2 tbsp
- Melted Butter 3 tbsp
- Turmeric Powder 1/2 tsp
- Ground Black Pepper 1/2 tsp
- Salt 2 tsp
- Saffron Powder 1/4 tsp
To make the Hawaij Spice blend dry roast all the ingredients except for dried lemon on medium heat until fragrant. Be careful not to burn the spices. Allow the spices to cool before grinding them in a spice grinder along with dried lemon until powdered. Pass the spice mix through a fine sieve to get rid of any coarse bits. I usually double the amount of whole spices and store this spice mix in an air tight jar.
To marinate the chicken make a marinade by combining Hawaij spice mix, salt, black pepper, saffron powder and turmeric in melted butter. When making Mandi I usually spatchcock the chicken so it is flat and all the skin side is facing upwards allowing it to cook faster and get a nice crispy skin. Using a brush apply marinade over the chicken. You can cook it immediately but I prefer leaving it a few hours or overnight.
To roast Mandi preheat your oven to 180 ℃. Place chicken over a grill in a roasting tray. As the chicken roasts, its drippings will collect in the roasting tray. Allow the chicken to roast for 50 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes, depending on the size of your chicken. Switch on the top grill in the last 10 minutes, to get some nice golden colour on the chicken. Once Mandi is ready, serve hot with cooked Basmati rice or my fragrant Saffron Rice.
To add more flavor to the rice, I pour the collected drippings from the roasting pan over cooked rice. It gives the rice a nice buttery mildly spiced taste.