What is lahmajun, and how can I make it in my kitchen?
Lahmajun (Armenian Flatbread). Recipe Developed by Andrew Janjigian.
I’m Armenian, which means I’ve been eating lahmajun (“lah‑mah‑joon”) my whole life. My aunties would make it for us when we’d visit, rolling the yeasted dough into paper-thin rounds, spreading the rounds with a film of spiced ground lamb, and baking them until they were crispy and browned. And my mother often brought home boxes of the flatbreads from local Armenian bakeries, keeping them stacked face‑to‑face between sheets of parchment paper until it was time to reheat them. We’d spray the flatbreads with lemon juice and eat them like pizza (lahmajun predates—and is sometimes considered a precursor to—pizza) or turn them into sandwiches by rolling them around a salad of fresh or pickled vegetables.
My love for the dish had always been more than just habitual, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I ate lahmajun so good that it upped my standards for the dish as both an Armenian and a baker. Cooked in a blazing wood-fired oven, the bread had a delicate and crispy paper-thin crust, yet it was still tender within. And the lamb paste—fragrant with garlic and onion; red pepper; tomato; parsley; and earthy, warm spices—tasted rich and vibrant. Part of the difference was the hearth, which made for exceptional browning and rusticity. But the crumb of these flatbreads boasted more flavor and textural contrast between the exterior and interior than premade bakery versions, which tend to be more uniformly tender. In fact, they were more akin to great pizza—and when I made that connection, I realized that sorting out a great recipe was right in my wheelhouse. Keep reading →
Lahmajun (Armenian Flatbread)
Long before pizza came along, Armenians were baking crisp, savory meat‑and‑vegetable-topped flatbreads that some consider the original thin‑crust pie.
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Extensible, easy-to-roll dough
A higher-protein all-purpose flour creates an ample amount of gluten that gives the dough both crispness and tenderness but not so much that it turns tough. The combination of a small amount of yeast; ice water; and slow, cold fermentation minimizes gas bubbles and allows the gluten to fully relax so that the dough easily rolls out thin and flat.
Fragrant, moist—not wet—topping
Garlic, allspice, paprika, cumin, cayenne, and biber salçası (Turkish red pepper paste) add earthy warmth, sweetness, and heat to the rich, savory lamb. Minimizing the amount of watery onion and pepper and swapping juicy fresh or canned tomatoes for umami-rich tomato paste controls moisture that would make the crust soggy.
Effective, mess-free topping method
Placing a piece of plastic wrap over the topping before spreading it affords you the dexterity of spreading it with your fingers but avoids any messy direct contact with the meat and vegetable paste.
Crisp, well-browned crust
To mimic the blazing heat of a wood-fired oven, we set a baking stone on the upper-middle rack of the oven and run it at 500 degrees for an hour: That way, there is intense heat both underneath the flatbreads and reflecting onto them from above, with just enough headspace to usher them into and out of the oven.
HAVE YOU MET Andrew Janjigian?
Andrew Janjigian is a senior editor at Cook’s Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen’s resident breadhead. He’s also a regular bread baking instructor at King Arthur Flour and elsewhere. He currently lives and works from home in Cambridge, MA.
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Keeping up with the team . . .
This week we’re hearing from Paul Adams, Senior Editor.
What he’s reading:
The Salt Eaters by Toni Cade Bambara Cover
When I’m able to set aside fascinating food-sci tomes such as Bubbles in Food 2, I’m reading The Salt Eaters by Toni Cade Bambara, a wildly lyrical 1980 novel about activism and folk healing in a Black community (and the symbolism of salt), as well as Other Minds by Peter Godfrey-Smith, a fascinating introduction to the philosophy of biology that delves into how octopuses’ remarkable intelligence differs from humans’.
What he’s drinking:
I’ve been beating the heat with mezcal piña coladas: 8 ounces frozen pineapple chunks, 6 ounces ice cubes, 3 ounces cream of coconut, dash Angostura bitters, 5 ounces smoky mezcal. Process in blender, pour into 2 pint glasses, and top with ground nutmeg and/or sprinkle with instant coffee powder. Serve with wide-bore reusable straws. They’re also perfectly delicious without the booze, but they’ll have more of a spoonable consistency.
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