THE INCREDIBLE LAHMACUN AND AYRAN
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THE FOOD-EQUIVALENT OF BATMAN AND ROBIN, THE BRANGELINA OF ICONIC TURKISH EATS
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AS some of you may have noticed from this particular announcement, that I am now officially divorced… from the commitment of owning a stand-mixer (easy, gentlemen…). More accurately, a surprised appliance–widow if you may, still deeply hurt by the concealed unhappiness my stand-mixer had apparently suffered from in the past 4 years, which finally led to his jump off the kitchen counter on a cloudy Oct 24th, decapitating himself in his last, escapist act. The lumpy splatter of an unfinished pizza-dough over the black pavement, was his first and last, silent yet loudest protest, before declaring eternal freedom… from me. Looking back, devastated, I don’t think he has ever loved me…
Now, mid 30’s, dumped, and less equipped…
I know at times like this, I’m suppose to resort to less labour-intensive tasks in the kitchen, a pasta-salad perhaps, or a one-bowl-pancake mix with added sparkles, maybe even the unthinkable salad, to hide the scars from this tragic embarrassment, and more importantly, look really hot while doing it. But no. In an counter-protest to the irresponsibility of a suicidal stand-mixer, giving up making doughs is admitting defeat. With bare hands, I’m gonna prove that without him, I’m still highly desirable in the dough-market and totally dough-able. Not just the same dough down the sad memory lane, but I’m gonna make something awsome-er, something super-er.
I’m gonna make the incredible, lamahcun and ayran.
If you have never heard of lahmacun and ayran, they are the food-equivalent of Batman and Robin, the Brangelina of iconic Turkish eats, the perfect pairing where one simply looks/tastes cooler with the other. Since our journey to Istanbul too many years ago, burning through an unapologetic number of this widely available combo, I’ve been longing to break their codes at home and why not now? But to understand their appeal, one must look beyond the simplified description of – the Turkish “pizza” and a yogurt-drink. They are more than that.
The crust, much thinner and less “bubbly” than a chewier pizza-crust, is crispy on the edges and the bottom, feeling more like a crispy flatbread or a sturdy wrap. The “topping”, a loose paste made with ground lamb, tomatoes, onions, ground sumac (a lemony spice) and other various goodnesses, is “rubbed” over and adheres so inseparably onto the thin crust, that they translates more as one single body rather than two separate entities. Lahmacun isn’t toppings on top of a piece of bread. It’s one thing, one individual with two complimentary temperaments. Then at last, equally if not more importantly is the acidity – both from the lemony spice called sumac as well as the generous, final squeeze of lemon juice over a salad of herbs – that makes this Turkish street-eat so satisfyingly robust, but… refreshingly if you will, at the same time.
And of course, here comes Robin, the indispensable sidekick of an established superhero. To simply call ayran a “yogurt drink”, I think you’d be caught off guard, as I did, of how unexpected it tastes. Ayran, a foamy mixture of plain yogurt and water, different from any other beverages you’re used to, is salty. Yes, salty! A description so foreign to drinks that it took me several minutes after the first try, to realize. In fact, it was Jason who said, “I think there’s salt in here”, and me, “No fucking way!”. The initial adjustment created some sort of a sensory confusion, but later on grew into an unexplainable addiction. I almost couldn’t have lamahcun without ayran. It feels lonely, empty… Wrong.
This is a new birth, of a new relationship, and not so fragilely breakable like mine with… you know who. And to all the mixer-single ladies, put your hands up… and make this easy recipe that will mark the new beginning of a true romance.
Makes: 4 lahmacun and 4 cups of ayran
Before the actual embargo on making lahmacun, I was always under the assumption that the dough would be more or less similar to pizza doughs. No. No it’s not. It is a much drier, firmer dough, made with tons of olive oil with/without eggs. The texture of the dough is much crispier, much more flatbread-like than pizzas that have thicker and chewier crusts. I would really suggest using bread flour (with 12% ~ 14% protein), or 1/2 all-purpose and 1/2 semolina flour to get the texture right.
If this is your first time trying ayran, a Turkish yogurt beverage, you may need some time getting used to it. The saltiness may seem strange in the beginning, but you’ll catch up to it, addicted even, in just a few sips.
In this recipe, 1 cup = 250 ml.
- The dough:
- 2 cups (300 grams) bread flour, or a combination of all-purpose and semolina flour
- 1 1/2 tsp instant dry yeast
- 1 tsp light brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 cup (115 grams) whole milk
- 1/4 cup (50 grams) extra virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
- The topping:
- 1/2 small onion, diced
- 10 small or 5 medium tomatoes (weights 170 grams after drained)
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 tbsp chopped parsley, or cilantro
- 1/2 tbsp chopped mint
- 1/2 tbsp ground sumac (link from Amazon but widely available else where)
- 1 tsp Aleppo chili flakes, plus more for sprinkling
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp ground allspice
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 5.3 oz (150 grams) fatty ground lamb, or beef
- Sumac salad:
- 10 small or 5 large shallots, thinly sliced
- 2 tbsp chopped parsley, or cilantro
- 1 tbsp chopped mint
- 1 tbsp ground sumac (link from Amazon but widely available else where)
- Wedges of lemon to squeeze
To make the lahmacun: Microwave the milk on high for 30 seconds to warm up. With hands or a stand-mixer, mix bread flour, instant dry yeast, light brown sugar and salt in a bowl. Add large egg, warm milk and extra virgin olive oil (if mixing with hand, make a well in the center of the flour), then knead for 5~6 min until the dough is elastic and smooth. The dough should be very soft and pliable, but not very sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let proof at a warm place for 2 hours, until the dough has doubled.
Gently scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and divide into 4 equal portions. Shape into balls then cover with plastic wrap, and let rest for 30 min.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven on 500ºF/250ºC, with a pizza-stone or inverted cast-iron skillet inside. Then make the topping: Cut tomatoes in half then squeeze out any excess juice and seeds. In a food-processor, add everything under “the topping” except for the ground lamb. Pulse and run until the mixture turns pesto-like. Then add the ground lamb (or beef), and run until the mixture is paste-like. The mixture will feel watery. Set aside. Then make the sumac salad: Mix thinly sliced shallots, parsley, mint and ground sumac until even. Set aside.
To bake the lahmacun: Lightly flour 1 portion of the dough, then roll into a very thin disk. Transfer onto a piece of parchment paper, then brush the edges with olive oil. With your hands, distribute the topping evenly over the dough, press it gently into the dough without tearing it. Slide the parchment with the lamacun on top, over the preheated pizza-stone or inverted skillet. Bake for 5 ~6 min until golden browned on the edges. Repeat with the rest of the lamacun.
Serve with sumac salad on top, a good squeeze of lemon juice and extra chili flakes. Roll it up and enjoy with cold ayran.
- 4 cups (1000 ml) plain yogurt
- 2 cup2 (500 ml) iced water (can be a combination of ice and water)
- 3/4 tsp of salt (plus or minus 1/8 tsp to your personal liking)
Blend plain yogurt, iced water and salt in a blender until foamy and smooth.