It's amazing what one can make with very few ingredients to choose from. One day recently I was thinking of ways to use up the last vegetables in the pantry, when I suddenly remembered lahmacun, an unusual pizza-like snack I hadn't eaten in over ten years. I've only known it as the Turkish pizza (lahmacun is the Turkish spelling, pronounced lah-ma-joon), but I've come to know this is actually a very popular dish throughout the Middle East. The name comes from the Arabic lahm bi'ajin which means meat with dough. Lahmacun is basically a thin, crispy, round flatbread topped with a spicy mixture of minced meat, finely chopped vegetables (usually onion, bell pepper, tomato) and fresh herbs (parsley, mint), drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice, garnished with fresh parsley and rolled up like a sandwich.
Making an authentic lahmacun requires a brick oven and very high temperatures, however it can easily be done in a regular home oven, especially this meatless version. A great lahmacun is crispy around the edges and pliable in the centre. It makes a really delicious, filling snack. This Turkish pizza can be served plain or wrapped around fresh vegetables - cucumber, tomato, onion slices, lettuce and pickles are commonly used.
I enjoy making recipes from scratch, like in this case. The eggplant lahmacun is very easy to put together once you have the grilled eggplant and dough ready. To cut short the preparation time you can opt for ready-made fluffy flour tortillas, or even pita bread. This vegetable combination was great: smoked eggplant, sweet red bell pepper and pungent onions came together wonderfully. Lemon juice cuts right through the sweetness and, although I used black olives in one version, I recommend green olives and even capers, their salty, sour flavour would add more contrast.
I can't really call this eggplant version a lahmacun, since the name implies meat, so I'm sticking with Turkish-style pizza, while mentioning lahmacun as the source of inspiration.
Makes 4 large or 8 small pizzas (serves 4-6)
Amounts given below are for 4 large pizzas (about 27 x 16 cm each).
- 350 g organic all purpose flour
- pinch of salt (I use sea salt or Himalayan)
- 1 tsp quick yeast (or fast action yeast)
- 2 Tb extra virgin olive oil
- 3/4 cup warm water
Sift the flour into a bowl, add salt and yeast and mix. Make a well in the centre, add the oil and warm water and mix, kneading to form a soft dough that doesn't stick. Depending on the quality of your flour, you may or may not need extra water or flour. I added 2 more Tb flour right at the end, because it was a little sticky. Knead well for about 5 minutes, form a ball, place it in a bowl and drizzle a little olive oil on top, spreading it around with your hands so that the top doesn't dry out. Cover with a towel and keep the bowl in a warm place for 30-40 minutes until the dough has doubled in size.
- 6 medium-large eggplants (1 1/2 for each pizza) - grilled, cooled, peeled and drained (please read my post on Ajvar to see how I do this)
- 1 medium onion, peeled, halved and cut into thin strips
- 2 red bell peppers, seeded, quartered and cut into medium-thick strips
- 2 medium tomatoes, cut into medium-thick slices
- handful of pitted olives, cut into 6 lengthwise (or just halved)
- freshly ground black pepper (or a mix of red, white and black pepper)
- sweet or smoked paprika (I prefer smoked)
- dried oregano
- dried thyme
- fresh parsley to garnish
- extra virgin olive oil
- lemon wedges
Extras (optional): sautéed mushrooms, zucchini slices, non-dairy cheese, dried chilli flakes, dill, mint, cayenne, cumin powder, garlic (minced or powder).
Place the onion, peppers, tomatoes and olives (if using) in separate bowls. On a cutting board roughly chop the eggplant, sprinkle a little salt and mix it in with your hands. Divide it into 4 or 8, depending if you're making large or small pizzas. I made 4, each one the size of half of a baking sheet, and baked two at a time.
Cover the baking sheet with aluminium foil and brush it lightly with olive oil.
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
Once the dough has risen, knead it a little bit and divide it into 4. Sprinkle some flour onto your work surface and roll out the dough until very thin, but not see-through. Place two layers of dough onto the baking tray and sprinke some olive oil on top, then brush it all over or use your hands to do the same. The edges in particular need to be oiled to become very crispy.
Spread 1/4 of the chopped eggplant into an even layer on each pizza base, leaving 1 - 1.5 cm border all around.
Arrange the vegetables into the desired pattern, keeping half for the other 2 pizzas, then sprinkle generously with the spices and a pinch of salt (for a boost of flavour) and bake for 30 minutes.
The pizza is ready when the eggplant base had dried up a little, the vegetables have softened, the dough edges are golden and crispy and the bottom is light-golden and still pliable. Just lift one side of the pizza to check if it is ready or needs more time. With the first 2 pizzas I needed to increase the oven temperature to 400°F (200°C).
When done, carefully remove the baking sheet and place it on a wire rack. Using a spatula, slide the pizzas onto large plates or cutting boards. Give them a couple of minutes to rest. Drizzle some olive oil and lemon juice on top, generously sprinkle chopped parsley, cut into 4 or 6 pieces and serve.
Roll out the other 2 pieces of dough. While doing this, the baking sheet has had some time to cool down a bit, so it is safe to oil it again and proceed with the remaining 2 pizzas.
If making 8 round pizzas instead, you can easily roll them up and eat them like sandwiches. To take the pizza to a whole new level of indulgence, add a little non-dairy sour cream, thick yogurt or garlic sauce on top.
For some kid fun, cut the pizza into very small pieces or make small round pizzas, allowing the kids to choose their topping.
Enjoy and spread the magic!:)
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