Last fall, the husband and I went with his parents to Kitchen on Fire for a Mediterranean Feast cooking class. In addition to me getting my literary weird on (I decided to sign in as Beatrice Rappacini given that we were reading that story in the 9th grade curriculum--don't ask, I have no idea why), we learned how to make lahmacun, Turkey's answer to the pizza question. Or perhaps, pizza is Italy's answer to the lahmacun question. Either way, I love this flatbread with lamb.

In fact, I have become a full convert to lamb in general.

I never thought I would write that (or that I love rabbit, liver, and fruitcake--just not all together, of course).

This past week, the bookclub met to discuss The Black Book, a weird, dreamy, lush book set in Istanbul that made me want to immediately book passage to Asia Minor. Turkish hüzün permeates the pages--the melancholy of living in a lost empire--yet the book is playfully postmodern and strange.  Given the gathering of highly intelligent and literate folks (and the fact that I had not yet read to the last page), I knew I needed to step up my game in the culinary department. I am not above using food to cover my other inadequacies.

This lahmacun is an amalgamation of two recipes--one from Kitchen on Fire and the other from a lovely website on Turkish cooking. I liked the addition of red and green peppers and mint that the Kitchen on Fire recipe did not have; however, as instructed by Kitchen on Fire, I didn't use yeast in the dough, which allowed for a much quicker dough-readiness time.

Do be careful to not overcook--I did overcook the second lahmacun (this recipe is ample enough to make two full lahmacuns with some topping leftover*), and it was a little tough to bite into, given that there was no yeast to lighten up the crust. However, the first lahmacun turned out beautifully. Pull from the oven just as you see the edges of the crust begin to brown.

*We sauteed the leftover topping the next day with some eggplant and ate with pita.  Yum.

Finally, a word on how to serve lahmacun. I opted for the more "pizza"-like approach of a large lahmacun rolled out and then cut into squares with yogurt and cucumber on top. Traditionally, you would make individual portions, about the size of a pita bread, put some yogurt, cucumber, and cabbage in the middle, and fold the lahmacun around it like a taco. Either way, though, you're going to love this way to get more lamb in your life. Also recommended: a Pamuk novel to bring you right into Istanbul if you cannot find a way to overlook the Bosphorus.


Serves 6-8

For the base
4 Tbsp flour
2 cups flour
2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup water

For the topping
2 bunches parsley
1 handful mint
2 cloves garlic
1 large onion
2 tomatoes
1 red pepper
1/2 green pepper
2 green chiles
1 lb ground lamb
1Tbsp tomato paste
2 Tbsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp paprika
1 1/2 tsp cumin
Olive oil as needed

For the yogurt sauce
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 cucumber
juice of 2 lemons
1/2 bunch parsley
1/2 bunch mint
salt and pepper to taste

Red or green cabbage, shredded

For the base:
1.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2.  Sift flour onto the worktop. Make a well int eh center, and sprinkle salt and sugar into the well. Pour in the olive oil, and knead with the flour, gradually adding the water, until smooth and shiny (about 10-15 minutes--this is the hardest part, I promise). Wrap in a damp cloth and chill for 30 minutes.

For the topping:
3. In a food processor, pulse the parsley through chiles until the consistency is somewhere between a paste and a sauce.

4.  In a medium mixing bowl, combine the parsley-pepper mixture with the ground lamb, tomato paste, red pepper flakes, paprika, and cumin.  Add olive oil as needed to smooth the mixture.

For the yogurt sauce:
5. Combine the yogurt through mint in a separate small mixing bowl.  Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside for 30 minutes.

6.  Dust worktop with flour.  Remove the dough from the refrigerator, and break off 8 equal-sized pieces.* Lightly dust each piece with flour.  Slightly flatten each piece with your hands and then roll out with a rolling pin.

7. Divide the ground lamb mixture equally between the circular bases and spread on each base almost to the edge.

8.  Bake on a pizza stone for about 10 minutes (or on the back of a baking sheet that has been coated with a little cooking spray).

9.  Serve the lahmacun with a little yogurt sauce and if desired some shredded green or red cabbage.  Roll the lahmacun around the yogurt sauce and cabbage like a pita or a taco.

*Note:  An alternative is to could make one large lahmacun and serve it more like a Western pizza.


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