Who said pizza needs to have cheese on it? Definitely not the Lebanese.
When it comes to traditional Lebanese pizza, the common ingredients differ greatly from its Italian counterpart. Whereas the Italians favour cheese and tomato as the base for their pizzas, the Lebanese opt for herbs, spices and oils, topped simply with with fresh meats and vegetables. The classic example of this simple and delicious combination is lahembajin – or Lebanese meat pizza. Just ask anyone lover of Middle Eastern food: nothing is tastier than lahembajin.
Lahembajin – also spelled lahmacun, lahmajun or lahmaǰo (amongst many other variations) – is a classic Middle Eastern dish that literally translates to “meat on dough”. While this may not sound particularly enticing, like many traditional Middle Eastern dishes, the devil is in the details.
Lahembajin usually consists of a thin, round flatbread topped with a mixture of ground meat, vegetables and herbs that is then baked in a woodfire oven. The meat is commonly lamb or beef, the vegetables are usually onion, capsicum and tomato, and herbs can include parsley, mint and cilantro. What you get is an incarnation of pizza – Lebanese meat pizza that is.
Like many other aspects of traditional Lebanese cooking, lahembajin originated in the Levant region (modern day Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Palestine and Israel), but quickly spread to surrounding regions like Turkey and Armenia, hence the multitude of spellings and variations of the dish.
Like many traditional cuisines, there are minor discrepancies in the tale of the ‘first’ incarnation of the lahembajin as different regions had access to ingredients that others didn’t. As such, modern versions of the dish vary greatly. This only adds to its allure: you never quite know what you’re going to get.
The base – the dough for lahembajin needs to be quite thin and crispy, much like traditional Italian pizza.
The toppings – the secret to great lahembajin is in the preparation of the toppings. The meat and vegetables need to be cut up very fine so that it will cook easily and combine nicely. There is no set recipe for how you prepare your toppings, so get as creative as you like.
The spices – one of the key differences between Lebanese and Italian pizza is how the Lebanese use spices. Lahembajin tends to be spicy and a little bit sweet, using anything from cayenne pepper to cumin, cinnamon or paprika. Once again, you can get as creative as you want with the spices used in the topping mixture.
The cooking – before spreading on top of the dough, the topping mixture is usually sautéed briefly in order to cook the meat slightly and to release their juices. The mixture is then placed on the dough and put in the oven at a very high heat.
The garnishes – once the dough is golden and crispy it is ready to eat, but not before it is garnished with a few final touches. A bit of olive oil, lemon juice, coriander or parsley will bring an element of freshness and vitality to the dish.
Now it is ready to eat!
If you’re on the hunt for traditional Lebanese meat pizza, your search ends with lahembajin. This simple and delicious dish is an age-old classic. For an authentic lahembajin experience drop by Manoosh Pizzeria, or order online, we’d be more than happy to prepare a fresh one for you! Manoosh are plating up some of the best Lebanese food in the inner west!