Monday, September 28, 2015

A Meatlover's Pizza

Armenia as a nation dates back to 2492 BC. That's one long history, especially for me as an American to think about. We are not even 2.5 centuries old. The Armenians are counting the millennia. Along with such a rich national history, the Armenian Apostolic Church is the world's oldest national church. The legend goes that after curing Abgar V of Leprosy, the apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus were invited to spread the gospel through all of Armenia. That was AD 30, but it was not until AD 301 that the Armenians adopted Christianity as their state religion. Today over 93% of Armenians still belong to the Armenian church. Other Christians (like Protestants) make up another 2%. Yazidism, a religion tied to Zoroastrianism, and Islam play a small role in the religious lives of Armenian minority groups, but the country is overall homogenously Christian. Another cool fact about Armenia is that they have their own unique alphabet. Look it up. It is really interesting.



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Armenia is in Eurasia, so, as its name hints, the cuisine is a blend of East and West with a little flare that is solely Armenian. There are a lot of similarities between Turkish and Armenian cuisines like tonight's dish demonstrates. (They serve the same thing in Turkey with a slightly different name.) Wheat, dairy products, and legumes are widespread. The Armenians take pride in their delicious ingredients and seasonings. Even after years of Soviet control, their cuisine has stood the test and still is rich and full of culture.

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Armenians often eat their lahmajoon folded in half and stuffed with pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and/or parsley. You have probably heard of it before under the name of Turkish or Armenian pizza. There is a close resemblance between this flavorful flat bread and the beloved Italian pizza. Lahmajoon has its own flare, though, with a super thin and crispy (almost tortilla-like) crust and a supremely meaty topping. I imagine that they would be the perfect appetizer for a party, especially if all the guests ate them  burrito-style as the Armenians do.

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Lahmajoon
makes 10
For the dough:
1 tsp yeast
¾ cup warm water (110 degrees F)
1 tsp sugar
2 ¼ cups flour
½ tsp salt
2 tbsp butter

For the topping:
1 pound ground lamb or beef
4 cloves garlic
1 onion
1 green bell pepper, seeded
3 tbsp tomato paste
1 large tomato
1 cup chopped parsley
juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
dash of cayenne pepper power
1 tsp salt

Add-ins after baking:
lettuce
lemon juice
parsley
pickles

To make the dough, mix together the yeast, sugar, and ½ cup water. Let this mixture sit in a warm place for 10 minutes to allow the yeast to activate. In a large mixing bowl, combine the remaining dough ingredients. Stir in the yeast mixture and knead until a soft dough has formed. Roll the dough into a ball, spray it all over with oil, and loosely cover with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to sit in a warm place for 2 hours.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Using a food processor, finely chop (but NOT puree) the onion, bell pepper, tomato, and garlic. Mix the chopped vegetables, tomato paste, and meat together and then press out any extra moisture through a fine-mesh sieve. Stir the parsley, seasonings, and lemon juice into the mixture. Refrigerate until you are ready to top your lahmajoon.

Once the dough has risen, preheat your oven to 450 degrees and oil 2 large baking sheets. Divide the dough into 10 equal balls. Roll each ball out 1/8” thick, about the size of a tortilla. Brush oil over the top and spread a thin layer of the meat mixture onto each lahmajoon. Working in batches, bake two lahmajoon per baking sheet at a time. Cook one set on the top rack and one on a middle rack for 6 minutes and then rotate. Cook for another 6 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown. Serve drizzled with more lemon juice and topped with lettuce, parsley, and/or pickles.

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I could live with making Armenian pizza the Friday night standard. It was crispy, meaty, filling, and delicious. Plus, the smaller size of each lahmajoon is perfect for one person, so you can happily devour the whole flatbread all on your own. Score for Armenia! The only downside is that ground beef is ridiculously expensive here. $7.99 for one pound! It's because I refuse to buy ground beef in log form. Ugh. I might be spoiled, but that's just gross... Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the trip to Armenia!
 

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