Lahmacun a.k.a Turkish Pizza
One of the most beloved and popular street foods of Istanbul, Lahmacun is also known as “Turkish Pizza”–a thin flatbread dough is pan cooked with a ground lamb or beef topping, or both in this case. The meat mixture is seasoned with a gorgeous old world inspired spice blend. Lahmacun are served with tomatoes, parsley, and that traditional squeeze of lemon. Forget ordering pizza this weekend, make some Lahmacun and enjoy the best meal possible!Jump to Recipe
I refer to Lahmacun as “Turkish Pizza” to offer some starting point to Western European and American eaters who need something to compare this celebrated street food with. However, other than a similar round look to the dough and the dough itself (which isn’t even like pizza dough, more of a flatbread), Lahmacun isn’t comparable to Italian or New York style pizza. It is its own creation and its own beauty.
Lahmacun is so well known in Turkey, and it is the Ottoman Empire that made itself known throughout much of the old Eastern empire and my own Croatian homeland. The origin is more likely where the Turkish, Armenian, and Arabic (especially Syrian) cultures of the area intersected. The name Lahmacun itself is Arabic in its origin, coming from laḥm bi-ʿajīn meaning “meat with dough.”
Despite its fractured origins, Lahmacun grew in its popularity in Turkey in the 1960’s and is today being cooked up on multiple street corners across Istanbul. I wonder if there are more Lahmacun in modern day Istanbul or their other beloved inhabitants: street cats.
It turns out my Turk from Queens enjoyed his Turkish / Armenian / Syrian street food in multiple locales and life stages, including in Istanbul when visiting as a child, and at his mother’s Armenian church fundraisers in Manhattan. He also was constantly pulling out frozen Lahmacun from the freezer which were bought at local Turkish and Armenian groceries. Lahmacun were his Hot Pockets!
Cooking Lahmacun wasn’t my Turk’s specialty, so we started almost from scratch. Lahmacun are made with ground lamb usually, or sometimes ground beef. We decided to do the combination of both, especially since my Croatian cevapcici are made with that blend of meats (likely originating with the Ottoman Turks;).
I saw some recipes that cooked the Lahmacun in the oven, but I ultimately went for the cooking in a non stick skillet method. I think I liked the old world quality of the cooking process–the Lahmacun are cooked over medium to medium lower heat for 5-7 minutes with no cooking spray, butter, or oil, almost as if you are baking pizzas on a stone. It’s amazing how the meat cooks perfectly in that time as well.
I am using the flatbread recipe from Ozlem’s Turkish Table, as she has been my go to in discovering and re-discovering my guy’s childhood after school snacks. As for the filling and spice blend on the ground meat, I went a little complex. Ground beef and ground lamb, especially, absorb flavors like a sponge.
My Turk is used to a simpler paprika-red pepper flake blend, and I included those, but also reached out to the traditional Turkish sumac, along with cumin, and a touch of cinnamon, allspice, and marjoram. I added the marjoram since it is a component to my Croatian cevapcici, so I felt it had a good home here. The result was a crispy, yet soft flatbread topped with a flavorful meat mix, spiced in the form of the old Ottoman empire, and maybe a little bit Armenian and Syrian too. Served up with additional tomato, parsley, and a squeeze of lemon every time.
The cooking process is a lot of fun and the prep process is super easy, especially if you have a food processor. I love my KitchenAid Mixer, but if I had to choose one, I might choose my Cuisinart Food Processor. I can always use a hand mixer, but hand chopping vegetables, and ground meat? This is better.
- Preparing the dough per Ozlem’s is simple, especially with a stand mixer.
- While the dough is rising for 30 minutes, you can prepare the meat mixture in the food processor.
- One by one, you process the red onion, garlic, tomatoes, tomato paste, and parsley…then the meats are added, along with the many spices. Pulse until the meat is almost paste like. This helps the thin layer of meat to cook properly on the flatbread in a short time.
- Once the dough is proved, you separate it out to six equal balls of dough, and allow to rise a second time for 15-30 minutes.
- Then, the dough is rolled out and cooked in a bare non-stick skillet. Covering the skillet allows the Lahmacun meat to steam in no time, and giving the pan a shake keeps it from sticking, through surprisingly, none of my Lahmacun had sticking problems.
- You can serve the Lacmacun with additional parsley leaves, tomato slices, and a squeeze of lemon. They even roll up to be eaten like a hard edged burrito, Turkish style.
Turkish Lahmacun aka Turkish Pizza
- Food processor, if possible.
- Non-stick skillet
Ozlem's Turkish Table Flatbread Dough
- 1 tsp active dry yeast
- ½ tsp granulated sugar
- ⅔ cup lukewarm water
- 3 cups all purpose flour or bread flour
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp olive oil
- ¾ lb ground beef
- ¾ lb ground lamb
- ½ red onion
- 5 medium tomatoes
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- ½ bunch parsley
- 1 tsp mint
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- ½ tbsp sumac
- 1 tsp paprika
- ½ tsp cumin
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp marjoram
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
For Ozlem's Turkish Table Flatbread
- Add the sugar and yeast to a stand mixer with ⅓ cup of the lukewarm water. Allow the mix to froth for about 15 minutes. In the meantime, sift the flour and the salt.
- Add the flour and salt, along with the rest of the lukewarm water, to the yeast mix and start up the dough hook on a consistent, lower speed for 7-10 minutes, until the dough comes together and does not stick to the sides of the bowl. Add in the olive oil as the dough mixes. If needed, add a little more water or a little more flour to even out the texture.
- Turn the dough and knead a few turns on a floured surface to even up and place in a bowl. Add additional olive oil to the bowl and coat the dough so it retains moisture. Cover the bowl with a towel and allow to rise for 1 hour. I place the dough in an oven that has just been shut off from 200 degrees and I prop a wooden spoon in the door to prevent too much heat.
- Make the meat filling (see below).
- Once the dough has proved, punch it down and knead it on a floured surface. Divide into six equal pieces (I use a digital scale to help.) Cover the pieces with a towel and allow to rise for an additional 30 minutes.
For Meat Filling
- Slice the tomatoes in half and remove the seeds. Give them a squeeze to remove the excess juice. Add the tomatoes, along with all the ingredients –except the meat– into a food processor. Pulse until well combined. Add in the ground meat and pulse again enough times for the meat and paste to all be integrated together.
- Roll each dough piece on a floured surface into a thin circle. It does not have to be a perfect circle, as long as the dough is thin and even all the way around. I separate the flatbreads with parchment paper to keep them stacked and keep them from sticking.
- Warm up the non stick skillet over medium to medium lower heat (my stove runs high so medium lower for me). Add the meat paste mixture in a thin layer evenly over the top of the first flatbread. It can be fiddly, so I use my hands and lightly tap the meat around the dough so it moves around. Make sure to leave the edges free of meat mixture.
- Slide the meat flatbread into the pan off of the parchment or lift it up and GINGERLY drop it into the pan. Almost immediately, you can start sliding the lahmacun around to keep it loose. Cook with cover on for 5-7 minutes and keep checking the bottom of the lahmacun to make sure it is not burning (if so, lower the heat) and keep an eye on the meat to make sure it cooks as well.
- Move on, one by one, adding meat to each piece and cooking them. Once all are finished, garnish with additional parsley, salt, red pepper if desired, tomato slices, red onion slices, and a squeeze of lemon. You can fold up and eat like a burrito if you like! We made a basic yoghurt dip out of greek yoghurt, salt, paprika, a clove of garlic, and olive oil. You can make whatever side sauce you like. These even taste pretty good the next day once warmed up!