I adore lahmacun! Circular flatbreads topped with a thin spread of spiced lamb and baked fast and hot until they are crisp, these delicious pizza-like treats originated in the Ottoman Empire, especially Armenia, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey. The name comes from the Arabic lahm b’ajin (meat with dough) – lahmacun in Turkish. For me, they are most strongly associated with Turkey, perhaps because I came to know and love them through the Turkish restaurants of London.
In Turkish restaurants lahmacun is usually served with a huge pile of fresh salad. I like to cut my lahmacun in half and fold it around a mix of salad ingredients, eating it with my hands. For the salad, I recommend as a minimum fresh, ripe tomatoes, diced cucumber, and fresh green herbs – my favourites are coriander and mint, but parsley is also popular. To these, you might also add a wider selection of herbs, rocket leaves, crisp lettuce, thinly sliced spring onion or red onion, sliced red cabbage, grated carrot and sliced chillies – fresh or pickled (the latter are often sold as kebab chillies).
This dough recipe is really simple – just combine the ingredients and knead briefly until you have a smooth dough. It’s an un-yeasted flatbread dough, so no extra kneading is necessary and if you make it first (as per my recipe), by the time you’ve made the quick lamb topping and chopped your salad ingredients, the dough is ready to go.
We tested a few options using readymade doughs and breads – including pizza dough, tortillas and pita breads – but none came close to the home made dough in texture.
Traditionally, lahmacuns are baked in a tandoor or stone oven, but you can absolutely make them in a domestic oven, laying your lamb-topped dough straight onto a hot baking tray or pizza stone. If you do have a dedicated pizza oven that reaches higher temperatures, you’ll need to adjust the cooking time accordingly.
Sumac is a spice made from a ground berry, that adds a light, refreshing citrus note.
There are many recipes on the web for lahmacun, featuring a spiced lamb topping with a long list of ingredients. This is my quick version which makes use of ready-made harissa to very good effect.
As lahmacun are best served hot from the oven, we serve these in turn around the table, as each one comes out of the oven.
For the dough
- 150 grams white bread flour
- 150 grams plain flour
- 250 ml water
- Extra flour for dusting during rolling
For the lamb topping
- 250 grams minced lamb
- 1 level tbsp harissa paste (see Notes)
- 1 clove garlic (or 1 teaspoon ready grated from a jar)
- 40 grams fresh tomato (or 1 teaspoon tomato puree + 1 tablespoon water)
- 1/4 red onion
- Generous grind of black pepper
For the salad
- 4-5 medium tomatoes, chopped
- 1 large bunch fresh herbs of you choice (I like coriander and mint)
- (Optional) Half a cucumber, cored and finely diced
- (Optional) Half a small red onion, thinly sliced
- (Optional) rocket leaves
- (Optional) crisp lettuce, chopped
- (Optional) raw carrot, grated
- (Optional) fresh chilli, very finely sliced
- (Optional) pickled chilli, sliced
- (Optional) dried sumac, for garnish
For the harissa paste, we use Belazu apricot harissa, which has a wonderful rich flavour.
Using a food processor to make the lamb topping makes this recipe quick and easy. If you don't have a food processor, you can mix the topping by hand (finely dicing tomatoes, red onions and garlic before adding). Do try and break the minced lamb down as much as you can, so it really combines with the flavouring ingredients.
Make lahmacun dough
Combine ingredients thoroughly into a smooth soft dough.
Prepare lamb topping
Place all the lamb topping ingredients into a food processor and blend until fully combined.
Chop the salad ingredients, and have them ready before you assemble and cook the lahmacuns.
Assemble and cook lahmacun
Place baking tray or pizza stone in your oven and preheat to 220 °C.
Divide the dough into 8 equal portions
Flour surface before rolling a portion of dough into a circle, about 20-23 cm (8-9 inches) in diameter. If you find it easier, pick up the dough and gently pull and stretch around the edges.
Divide the lamb topping into 8 portions, and spread a portion onto the dough. Use your fingers...
... or the back of the spoon to smear the topping evenly across the surface.
Carefully transfer the lahmacun onto the preheated oven tray or pizza stone, return to the oven and bake for about 6-8 minutes, until the lamb is cooked and the edges of the flatbread start to show some colour.
You may have spotted pickled jalapeños, pickled green chillis and a vibrant pink pickle in the salad topping on some of the lahmacuns. These are from my friend Kamran at Taste of Persia, and the pink pickle is one he makes himself – it’s pickled turnip with a little beetroot for natural colouring. Last time Pete and I made lahmacun for lunch (and I photographed them for this post) we had some of Kamran’s mixed salad leftover in the fridge from the night before, so we added these to our mixed salad topping.
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