What is lahmacun you ask? Let’s start with pronunciation. If you’re American (or not Turkish, really), I can almost guarantee your guess is wrong. In Turkish, the pronunciation of ‘c’ as we English speakers know it, doesn’t really exist. If you see a ‘c’ in a Turkish word, think of it as an English ‘j.’ Easy enough? But wait! If you see this letter: ç, forget what I just said. Ç = ‘ch.’ The ‘c’ in lahmacun doesn’t have a tail on it, so it is pronounced as a ‘j.’ Therefore: “lah-mah-june.”
Now that we can all say it, what is it? Well it’s the epitome of delicious Turkish street food. It originates from Southeastern Turkey (although that is debated by some, as is the origin of pretty much every beloved food I’ve ever heard of…), and is popular in Turkey, Syria, Armenia, Lebanon, and other surrounding areas. It is essentially a meat-topped flatbread. In the US and Europe it is sometimes referred to as a “Turkish pizza.” That’s a reasonably accurate description I suppose, although to me the biggest and most obvious difference is that lahmacun isn’t covered in cheese as your traditional pizza is. Lahmacun can have a variety of toppings and therefore recipe variations, but at its core it is pita dough, baked with spiced meat on top. When purchased from a street vendor, they are commonly rolled up around a salad of sorts, but can also be eaten flat as we did tonight. Lamb is more traditional than beef, but since I had beef at home, that’s what we went with today.
(Recipe adapted from Sultan’s Kitchen: A Turkish Cookbook, by Özcan Ozan)
- 1 tbsp active dry yeast
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 3/4 cups hot water, divided
- 4 cups flour
- 2 tsp salt
- Olive oil
- 12oz ground beef (or lamb)
- 1 medium onion, finely diced
- 1 can (14.5oz) diced tomatoes
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp crushed red pepper
- 2 tsp paprika
- 2 tsp smoked paprika
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp salt
- 10 turns fresh ground pepper
- First, prepare the dough. In a small bowl, stir together the yeast, sugar, and 1/2 cup of warm water. Let sit for ~10 minutes until frothy.
- Add 1 cup of flour to a larger bowl. Pour the yeast mixture over top and stir. After combined, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit for 30 minutes.
- Now add the remaining flour, remaining water, and salt. Mix with a spoon in the bowl until you have a well-combined ball of dough. Then turn out onto a lightly floured, clean, dry counter-top. Knead the dough for 10+ minutes. The dough should be firm and elastic.
- Pour just a tiny bit of olive oil onto a paper towel and swipe around the bottom and side of a large bowl. Place the dough in the bowl and cover with a damp towel. Allow to sit for 1 hour or until dough has doubled in size.
- While your dough is rising, prepare the meat topping. Combine all of the rest of the ingredients. (Note: the ground meat used by Turkish cooks for this dish is more finely ground than how it is generally sold in the US. I used the back of a fork and smashed the meat a little bit to make it a bit finer.)
- After the dough has risen, roll it out on your floured counter-top, so it is a long log. Using a sharp knife, cut into 8 equal chunks. Meanwhile, preheat your over to 450 degrees.
- Smash each chunk of dough with the heel of your hand so it is fairly flat. Then roll out with a rolling pin. The dough should end up slightly smaller than the size of an average dinner plate.
- Top the dough with your meat mixture, leaving ~1/2 inch edge.
- Place on a pizza stone or a flat cookie sheet. Bake on top rack for 10-12 minutes. The meat should be browned and the edges of the dough golden and a bit crispy.
This makes 8 large pieces.