Turk-ish Lamb Flatbreads (Lahmacun)
With the haunting call to prayer reverberating through the air, a sojourn to the Istanbul Spice Market, with its frenetic energy, vibrant spices and dried fruits, is theoretically my nirvana. Yet, after a day of shopping there, I emerged with a lifetime supply of Turkish towels and overpriced tea…and just a pittance of spices. With 50 varieties of red chile flakes being the least of my decisions, I had buckled under the pressure.
While regrouping at a café outside of the spice market, my spirits were quickly revived as the waiters moved among the tables carrying the thinnest flatbread, trailed by a scent of lamb and spices. It was love at first bite, and thus the lahmacun tour of Istanbul commenced, where no flatbread was left unturned.
The traditional lahmacun is composed of dough topped with a mixture of raw lamb, tomato, bell pepper and a spice or two; the spices vary regionally but usually include dried chile. The topping is minimal, as the meat needs to cook in the minute or two the lahmacun spends in the wood-fired oven. Then it's simply served with parsley and lemon, often eaten folded up…New York pizza style.
A few days after my spice market flop, across the Bosporus Strait, I found spice redemption on a local food market tour in a residential neighborhood of Istanbul I otherwise would not have discovered. The meandering market walk through narrow cobblestone streets was serendipitously led by a woman named Tuba, whom I already knew from Instagram. In Tuba’s neighborhood spice shop, with her guidance, I acquired the cache of spices I had dreamed of, including sumac, paprika, chiles, nigella seeds, cumin and authentic spice blends. I am fond of spice blends because they replicate the right balance of flavors that are so important in ethnic cooking.
While keeping the simplicity of traditional lahmacun, my interpretation has morphed a bit at home. I start with caramelized onion and roasted bell pepper, versus the raw counterparts of the original, for a richer flavor given the brief cooking time. The parsley and lemon have grown into more of a salad, with arugula and loads of herbs. And the last addition, which requires a moniker of “Turk-ish flatbread,” is a crumble of feta cheese. This is not traditional, possibly blasphemous, but definitely delicious.
A CALIFORNIA TWIST ON A TURKISH CLASSIC
Makes about six, 8-inch flatbreads
- FOR THE DOUGH
- 2½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon dry yeast
- 1 cup warm water
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- FOR THE TOPPING
- 1 medium-sized yellow onion, sliced
- 1 red bell pepper, roasted and peeled (DIY or jarred)
- 1 Roma tomato, seeded
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 handful parsley
- 1½ tablespoons ras el hanout spice blend
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- ½ pound ground lamb
- FOR THE HERB SALAD
- 1 large handful arugula
- 1 large handful mixed herbs (parsley, mint, basil)
- Olive oil
- 4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
- Salt and pepper
- 1. To make the dough, combine all of the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add water and olive oil and stir until just combined. Knead the dough on a floured surface until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Return the dough to the bowl and lightly coat with olive oil. Cover loosely with a damp towel and let rise for 2 hours, or until almost doubled in size.
- 2. Place a pizza stone on the top rack of the oven. Preheat the oven to 500°F for at least 45 minutes.
- To make the topping, sauté the sliced onion over medium heat until soft and lightly browned. Transfer to a food processor and add bell pepper, tomato, tomato paste, parsley and the spices. Pulse until ground to a coarse sauce.
- 3. Transfer to a bowl and combine the mixture with the ground lamb.
- 4. Test your topping by tearing off a ping-pong-ball-sized piece of dough and rolling thin on a floured surface. Spread a thin layer of lamb mixture onto the dough, and bake on the pizza stone for about 3 minutes. Season with salt and additional ras el hanout if needed.
- 5. Just before cooking, toss the arugula and herbs with a squeeze of lemon, a very light drizzle of olive oil, the feta and a pinch of salt and pepper.
- 6. Divide the dough into 6 balls. On a well-floured work surface, roll the dough with a rolling pin until very thin, about 2 millimeters. Spread a thin layer of lamb mixture on the crust and transfer to the pizza stone with a pizza peel. Bake for 3 to 4 minutes, until the crust is crisp and the lamb is cooked through. Pull from the oven and top with herb salad. Serve with extra lemon and red pepper flakes.
- 7. Repeat with the remaining flatbreads.
Turk-ish Lamb Flatbreads (Lahmacun) was published in the Spring 2016 issue.
© 2016 Edible San Francisco. Photo © 2016 Kathleen Korb.