Lahmajoun sometimes gets called ‘Armenian pizza’ or ‘Turkish pizza’ or ‘Lebanese pizza’ or ‘Syrian pizza’ or ‘Arab pizza’, Wikipedia tells me.
But, it’s really not pizza. Pizza is a particular kind of flatbread that begins in Italy, and flatbread with toppings is hardly particular to Italian cuisine.
The world over, flatbreads were the first breads to be made, as long ago as 14,000 years ago and before domesticated agriculture. Pizza is a much newer ‘invention’ than that and, while being adopted by many cultures and peoples around the world (check David Chang’s Ugly Delicious episode on pizza), we most closely associate it with Italian cuisine.
Lahmajoun in Arabic means “meat with dough,” which might sound like a pizza to you but if we’re examining a classic Italian pizza such as the Margherita, it doesn’t even have meat on it (the first pizzas likely didn’t either…). And, an essential hallmark of pizza is (mozzarella) cheese; lahmajoun doesn’t have cheese on it.
Lahmajoun has its own origins that don’t begin with pizza. While it’s exact origins are uncertain, some believe that that lahmajoun was first prepared by the wives of wealthy traders along the Silk Road who cooked the dish over open flames in roadside inns.
It’s not a pizza.
And yet, almost everywhere I see it made in Canada, I still see it referred to in connection with pizza. I think there’s probably something to be said here about how here in North America we privilege certain cuisines at the expense of others…
So, with all this confusion: I decided to make lahmajoun into a proper pizza. Is this more confusing or less confusing?! Either way, this is what a Turkish or Armenian or Lahmajoun Pizza might look like!
I began with a classic New York-style crust that I shaped more like a pide (another ‘Middle Eastern pizza’…), to which a lahmajoun-styled topping is added. I made it from ground lamb, tomato paste, spices, fresh herbs, sweet bell peppers and onions. It’s amazingly fresh and fragrant while still bringing that homey tomato deliciousness that we associate with pizza. Then, cheese is added. Go for a classic Italian mozzarella (like I did here) or go for a more Armenian choice in Armenian string cheese which is a springy, smooth cheese with a flavor and texture not unlike a slightly saltier mozzarella (though, warning, it doesn’t melt the same way mozzarella does…). I’ve done both; they’re both delicious.
Slide it into a blasting hot oven with a pizza stone and, once it’s cooked, top it with fresh arugula (rocket) which is not uncommon to find in Middle Eastern fare.
Bam, it’s pizza! It’s relatively simple to make. And it’s delicious. But, it’s definitely not lahmajoun.
Lahmajoun Pizza with Arugula
A cross between a classic pizza pie and a Middle Eastern flatbread, this lahmajoun pizza is the perfect treat for family meals! A spiced lamb topping (made with ground lamb, tomato paste, spices, fresh herbs, sweet bell peppers and onions) is slathered on a classic pizza crust, topped with mozzarella, and slid into a piping hot oven to get that crust that is both soft and crispy. Once it's baked, fresh peppery arugula is added.
- pizza dough (I used this New York-style crust, though if you prefer a Neopolitan or have your own favorite crust, use that! Or, buy it....)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 pound minced lamb
- 1 medium yellow onion, minced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon baharat spice mix (don't have this? You can make one or for a quick substitute, go 1 teaspoon each of black pepper, paprika, cumin & coriander, with a dash of allspice and cinnamon (yes, I know this is more than a tablespoon but it's a quick substitute and we can't get too picky then!)
- 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (optional, adds a little heat)
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 1 sweet bell pepper (yellow, orange or red), minced
- 1/2 small bunch parsley, minced
- 2 tablespoons fresh mint, minced
- mozzarella cheese, grated (approximately 300-400g)
I typically heat my oven up first, giving it at least an hour to reach peak temperature. You want as hot an oven as possible (and, ideally a pizza stone) to get a good crispy crust. My oven goes to around 550F and it takes a long time to get there...
Heat up oil in a skillet or frying pan on medium heat. Add minced onions and cook for 3-5 minutes until onion begin to soften and become translucent. Add minced garlic, fry for 1 more minute until fragrant.
Add minced lamb, baharat, and Aleppo pepper and cook until browned.
In a medium bowl, add the cooked lamb mixture, tomato paste, bell pepper, and herbs. Stir and combine until it forms a paste-y mixture.
Stretch or roll out your dough on a lightly floured surface. I use a pizza stone (heated in the oven) so I roll my dough out on a piece of parchment paper for transfer to the oven. If you're using a pizza pan or baking sheet, roll the dough out onto that.
Spread 1/3 of the mixture evenly over the dough, leaving room around the edges for the crust. Top with 1/3 of your grated mozzarella.
Bake in heated oven, using 'broil' and using a rack in the top part of the oven. You want the crust to cook at the same rate as the cheese turns golden, so adjust (turn broil off, lower rack, etc) depending on what works in your oven (and read some tips for the best crust! I'm still working to master mine, not there yet...)
Repeat for the remaining two pizza pies.
Let pies cool for a few minutes before topping with arugula and slicing, so that the heat doesn't wilt the arugula. Enjoy!