I Ask My Grandmother If We Can Make Lahmajoun
by Gregory Djanikian
Sure, she says, why not,
we buy the ground lamb from the market
we buy parsley, fresh tomatoes, garlic
we cut, press, dice, mix
make the yeasty dough
the night before, kneading it
until our knuckles feel the hardness
of river beds or rocks in the desert
Please follow the link and read the entire poem. Then consider making lahmajoun. Make sure you've got a full day with nothing else to do but use your hands in the kitchen.
When my son was small I used to drop him off at his family day care home every morning. His caretaker, Irene, would greet us at the door and offer coffee, if I had the time. Once in a great while she would hand me a small box filled with a stack of her lahmajouns. This was always an occasion of great rejoicing. I remember the very first time she offered me one, still warm from the oven. I had never tasted anything like it and immediately became hooked. I found places in the city that sold them, but they were never as good as Irene's.
Last week, decades after that first taste, I decided it was high time I learned to make them myself. I'm quite pleased with them. They don't taste exactly as I remember Irene's, but they're close.
Lahmajouns are not difficult, but they do take quite a chunk out of the day, as you can only bake at most 3 or 4 at a time in a regular-sized oven. Given that a single person can easily eat that many, you need to be prepared to bake them in shifts throughout the day and to reheat them later.
Don't be discouraged by the first few batches. There is a ryhthm to making lahmajoun and I got better and better at rolling out the dough and spreading the filling over each circle as the day progressed.
Prepare the filling:
Make this a day ahead so that the flavors can meld.
Brown one pound ground lean lamb
In the meantime, prep the the rest of the ingedients (I tossed everything but the tomatoes, tomato paste and spices into my food processor for an instant fine dice)
1 1/2 cup yellow onion chopped fine
1/2 cup green bell pepper chopped fine
1/2 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 teaspoon of fresh sweet basil chopped
1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 can diced tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
Cayenne pepper, to taste
Allspice, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
Add the diced veggies and herbs to the lamb and saute until the onions and peppers begin to soften. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, spices and salt and pepper. Refrigerate overnight.
Make the bread dough:
5 cups flour
1 pkg. dry yeast dissolved in 1 cup warm water with a pinch of sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup vegeatble oil
1/2 cup warm water
Place the flour in a large mixing bowl. To the yeast add the salt, oil and another 1/2 cup of water. Stir well and pour over the flour. Mix well and pour out onto a floured board, knead until smooth and elastic. If it feels too dry, wet your hands and keep kneading. Place in an oiled bowl, and coat the top with a thin film of oil. Cover and let rise until doubled (1-2 hrs depending on inside temperature). When doubled in size punch the dough down and divide into about 24 balls of equal size. Roll each into a circle about 6" in diameter. This took a while to perfect and it's important to shape each little piece of dough into a circle before you roll it. The finished circles should be quite thin and should feel smooth and almost like heavy satin. Don't obsess with perfection here-- you'll get the hang of it as you get to the last of the dough.
Assemble the lahmajouns:
Remove the topping from the fridge just before you start to roll the circles and let it come to room temperature. Taste it and adjust the seasonings. It should taste somewhat spicy and I added more cumin at this point.
In batches, place the rolled circles on a cookie sheet and spread the topping to the edges pressing down gently but firmly. The layer of topping should be quite thin. Bake in a preheated 500 F oven on the lowest rack for about 8 - 10 minutes or until dough just starts to turn color. Remove and place on a wire rack, placing two together (one up and the other facing down) until all dough and filling is used up. Keep them lightly covered with towel to keep from drying out. You can stack about a dozen this way.
Cool, refrigerate or freeze (wrapped in foil). To reheat, remove from the foil and place in a moderately hot oven, one up and one down, like they were stacked, directly on the rack for about 3 - 4 minutes.
This is my entry for best of 2007. I had thought I'd enter my Apple Cambozola Tarts but I must say that the process of making the lahmajouns on the Sunday before Christmas and the taste of them when I served them for dinner, was the most enjoyable cooking experience of the year for me. And, too, I found the marvelous poem quite by accident which only heightened the pleasure I found in the day-long rhythmic process of making lahmajouns.
Late in year, but defintely my favorite for the year.