Flatbreads fascinate me.
In virtually every culture around the world, there’s some kind of risen dough, rolled out into disks, topped with a savory something and then baked.
It’s food at its most elemental, isn’t it? Just the basics of wheat and meat, quick to prepare, quick to bake and satisfying to eat.
All of us know pizza, America’s favorite flatbread. Whether you like it simply topped or loaded with everything, pizza is a reliable crowd-pleaser however it’s served. The average American eats 23 pounds of pizza per year, according to some pizza demographics researchers, and 93% of Americans will eat pizza at least once in the next 30 days.
There are lots of other savory flatbreads topped with something delicious around the world, though.
That brings me to lahmacun, a Middle Eastern flatbread topped with a highly seasoned mix of ground lamb or beef. It’s a quintessential walking-around food, the kind of thing you pick up from a street vendor.
My Armenian friends call it “lahmajun” and say it’s an Armenian original. My Turkish friends say no, it’s their creation. I dislike getting into the middle of that fray, preferring instead to simply enjoy indisputably good food.
Here in my Southern Arizona home, I sometimes use the big burrito-sized flour tortillas instead of a yeasted dough to build my lahmacun. You can do that, too, or you can stick to the more authentic base of a simple risen bread dough. Because I’m a lazy cook and frequently don’t think about dinner until I’m already past ravenous, I make no apologies for buying ready-made pizza dough to use as its base.
Whatever you use as the base, the key to lahmacun is its highly seasoned topping. No dairy here, with the exception of an optional yogurt garnish — just meat seasoned with typical Middle Eastern spices. While Americans don’t usually think of allspice and cinnamon in meat dishes, their addition here creates a lovely Mediterranean flavor profile. Smoked paprika lends a bit of the flavor of the brick oven, and a ripe red bell pepper helps make the topping a most appealing eye-popping crimson.
I highly recommend mixing up some garlicky yogurt — say, two or three crushed cloves to a cup of yogurt — to dress the finished lahmacun. The thinly sliced red onion, which I sometimes dress with a spoon or two of za’atar (the mixture of sumac, oregano and sesame seeds), also brightens its flavor.
If you’re ready for a change of pace, this satisfying alternative can up your flatbread game.
Makes 4 servings
Most commonly made with ground lamb, these “pizzas” are equally good made with ground beef. Slice like pizza or let each diner dress his portion with lemon juice, sliced onions, and garlicky yogurt and then roll up like a burrito. Serve these hot or at room temperature.
½ pound store-bought pizza dough, homemade pizza dough or 4 burrito-size flour tortillas
½ sweet red pepper, cored, cut into chunks
½ small onion, quartered
4 garlic cloves
A handful of fresh parsley with some stems
8 ounces ground lamb or ground beef
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Lemon wedges, for serving
Thinly sliced red onion, for serving
Greek yogurt mixed with crushed garlic, for serving
Heat oven to 450 degrees F. Adjust oven rack to the middle.
In the large bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, add red peppers, onion, garlic and parsley. Pulse a few times to chop. Add ground lamb or beef. Season with spices and salt. Add tomato paste and extra virgin olive oil. Now pulse again until well-combined (about eight to 10 pulses.)
Prepare two large rimmed baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
Divide the pizza dough into four equal balls, about 2 ounces each. Working with one ball of dough at a time, place on a floured surface. Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough as thin as you can, to a disk that’s about 8 to 9 inches in diameter. If you’re using tortillas, you will skip this step.
Place one flatbread disk on one of the prepared pans. Reshape as needed. Spoon 3 to 4 tablespoons topping onto dough and spread topping evenly to edges, leaving a thin border.
Bake five to 10 minutes or until dough and meat are fully cooked (dough will be a little crusty around the edges.)
Repeat with the remaining dough and topping.
Squeeze a little lemon juice on top of baked lahmacun. Scatter sliced red onion over the top. Dress with garlicky yogurt. Serve lahmacun hot or at room temperature.
Robin Mather is a longtime food journalist and the author of “The Feast Nearby.” Follow her blog as she writes her third book, “The Feast of the Dove,” at thefeastofthedove.com.