Pizza’s appeal is nearly universal, likely because its supreme versatility allows boundless personal creativity. Diners choose toppings to match their own tastes and cultural preferences. There is no “wrong” combination. My own favorite mixture is pineapple and mushrooms. See?
As such, pizza is the world’s most widely-loved import from the Italian table. True, but before pizza reached Italy, it got its start farther east, where flatbread topped with local delicacies was a Near Eastern tradition by the time Rome absorbed the region into its empire a couple millennia ago. The resulting cultural exchange brought us today’s entry, Lahm bi Ajin, or Lebanese Pizzas.
The recipe, the idea, intrigued when it appeared on the 196 Flavors website. Topping (as it were) lahm bi ajin‘s appeal is the wonderfully Lebanese combination of lamb, pine nuts and za’atar seasoning. The combination speaks of pine-clad slopes overlooking a grassy meadow where flocks graze. Mint leaves are a great garnish, as they reinforce this theme with an ethereal note.
Then, of course, are chopped tomatoes, whose tang compliments the pizza’s other savory and sweet elements. Naturally, the world didn’t know of tomatoes until they emerged from the Andes 500 years ago, but it didn’t take long for that amazing berry to find a home on most tables.
Supporting it all is the bread. The round disks of golden toastiness are recommended to be baked on parchment paper to prevent sticking, but a silicone mat makes an even better job of it: The mat does a better job, and it certainly puts forth results superior to those of the baker, who doesn’t quite grasp the concept of a circle, apparently. Can’t even draw a straight line with a ruler.
While the pizzas aren’t perfectly round, the taste is what’s important, and that’s spot-on. What better companion for the flavorful pizzas than a crisp, cool salad? Here again the Near East produces a perfect side, tabbouleh (or “tabouli” as it’s spelled in the recipe) salad as presented in The Mediterranean Dish.
Chopped tomatoes and onion (or in this case, shallots) reinforce the lime juice’s tingly zest, while cucumbers and mint cool it. Small pearls of bulgur wheat and a drizzle of olive oil add a hearty silkiness. Almost a creaminess.
Have a salad and enjoy some “pie” from long before there were pizzerias or home delivery. Part of pizza’s appeal is the endless variety it inspires, so why not savor what was our species’ first, and arguably best, effort?
Lahm bi Ajin
For the dough:
- 2 cups flour
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup warm water
For the topping:
- 1 pound ground lamb (*1)
- 1 onion (*2)
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1/2 bunch parsley
- 1/2 bunch cilantro
- 2 tomatoes
- ground red pepper, to taste
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1 tablespoon “four-spice” bend (*3)
- 4 ounces pine nuts
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- salt, to taste
- freshly-ground pepper, to taste
Prepare the dough by sifting together in a large bowl the flour, sugar and yeast. Pour in warm water and mix, without kneading, for about a minute. Add the vegetable oil and the salt and knead the mixture for five minutes, until the dough is smooth and doesn’t stick to the sides of the bowl. Cover and let rest in warm place for 45 minutes.
Chop the onion and the garlic and set them aside. Finely chop the parsley, cilantro and tomato and set them aside, on a separate plate.
Place a large skillet over medium heat. When skillet is hot, add the olive oil and heat it until it shimmers. Add the onion and the shallot and cook them, stirring frequently, until they’re translucent, about three minutes. Add the paprika, four-spice blend and chili powder (optional) and stir for two minutes.
Add the meat to the skillet and mix it well. Add the tomatoes, cilantro and parsley, then salt and pepper the mixture to taste. Simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, knead the dough for another minute, then divide it into 15 equal parts, rolling each part into a ball (*4). Flatten each ball with a rolling pin until it forms a disk. Place the disks on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (*5)
Turn off the heat beneath the meat mixture then, in a small saucepan over low heat, lightly roast the pine nuts. Preheat an oven to 400 degrees.
Top each of the dough disks with a couple tablespoons of the meat mixture and gently press it into the dough with the back of a fork with just enough pressure to adhere it. Garnish with toasted pine nuts and bake for 15 minutes. Dust, if desired, with chopped fresh mint leaves and serve.
1 – Ground beef is another option, but lamb is more authentically Lebanese and besides, it’s a nice change of pace.
2 – Or two large shallots. Of course, that’s my preference.
3 – Za’atar spice blend is more appropriate here, and is recommended elsewhere. If you don’t have za’atar, mix equal amounts of black pepper, ground cloves, powdered ginger and powdered nutmeg.
4 – The original recipe provides no guidance, but I found that a little over an inch in diameter is about right.
5 – As mentioned in the text, a silicone baking mat, while certainly not traditional, is an even better option.
Tabouli (Tabbouleh) Salad
- 1/2 cup extra-fine bulgur wheat
- 4 firm Roma tomatoes, finely chopped (*6)
- 1 English cucumber, finely chopped (*7)
- 2 bunches parsley, finely chopped (*8)
- 4 green onions, finely chopped
- 3 to 4 tablespoons lime juice (*9)
- 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
Wash the bulgur wheat and soak it in water for five minutes. Drain it very well and squeeze it by hand to get rid of any excess water. Set aside.
Chop the tomatoes and place them in a colander to allow juice to drain. Meanwhile, chop the other vegetables and herbs.
Place all the vegetables and herbs in a large bowl and gently mix them. Add the bulgur, season with salt, and gently mix it. Add the lime juice and olive and mix again.
For best results, cover and refrigerate for an hour before serving.
6 – Because it adds a nice color and because tomatoes are at peak right now, I chose two Romas and one large yellow “heirloom” tomato. Go with whatever combination appeals to you.
7 – Seedless cucumber. Locally, they’re called “English” or “hothouse” cucumbers.
8 – Instead of two bunches of parsley, I selected one each of parsley and cilantro. It made the salad cooler, which is a welcome touch in late summer.
9 – This works out to about two average-size limes.
4 thoughts on “The Original”
Another delectable recipe. The Lebanese Pizza looks mouthwatering. And with the salad on the side, the contrasting spice and crispy cool must have played a delightful symphony of flavours in the mouth. Great recipe, can’t wait for the next one.
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Thanks so much! The crust isn’t nearly as good as what you prepared for your own pizzas last week, but the topping was alright. Today was a holiday here in the US, so I spent the (gorgeous) afternoon on the deck in the sunshine, selecting recipes to try in 2019. Another pizza will appear here, eventually; let’s hope the intervening months increase my crust-making skills to, I don’t know, about 40% of yours!
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oh my dear lord your blog is HEAVEN! This picture seriously got me drooling! lamb and toasted pine nuts??? YES YES YES
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Aren’t pine nuts amazing? I first tried them in a tagine and now I’m obsessed. Utterly lost. By now, I’m selecting recipes just because they contain pine nuts. Before long, that’ll be an entire entry, a single pine nut. No recipe this week, people; you can’t improve on this.
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