Monday, November 23, 2009

Lahmajun (Lamacun)

What is lahmajun, you ask? Well, the simple answer is...there is no simple answer. If you call it an Armenian pizza, you'd be wrong. Because it's also Turkish. And it's not a pizza.

Basically, lahmajun is a flatbread topped with a ground lamb (or beef) mixture, seasoned with tomatoes and various peppers. If you search the Interwebs, you'll find a few recipes that vary widely from each other. You can find a huge lamb:tomato ratio, or a very small one. You can find the addition of pepper paste, which I haven't been able to figure out. Some recipes pre-cook the lamb mixture, some don't. Some cook at a high temp, some low, etc., etc. It's enough to make a person give up.

But I couldn't give up. You see, I promised a friend of mine (hi Sami!) that I'd attempt to make lahmajun for Thanksgiving. And once that promise was made (although in a slight state of inebriation), nothing short of hospitalization or death was going to keep me from fulfilling it.

So, promise kept. My only hope is that it's at least recognizable to Sami as lahmajun. (Heh, I just realized that instead of doing turkey for Thanksgiving, I'm doing Turkish for Thanksgiving.)

I was pretty happy with the results, except for the dough. I have a feeling I can come up with something with a lot less rise/rest time that will be closer to what I want - crispy, only slightly chewy, but strong enough to stand up to the heavy-ish lamb filling.  So for now, I'm only going to give you the filling recipe, plus instructions on what to do with your dough, however you choose to procure it.


1 recipe "pizza" dough
1 lb ground lamb (actually, .91 lbs, since stores around here can't seem to sell in even increments)
4 plum tomatoes from a can (preferably San Marzano), minced
1/2 onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1.5 t paprika
1/2 t Aleppo pepper
1/4 t black pepper
handful of chopped parsley
1/2 t salt

Sweat the onion and garlic over medium-low heat. When almost translucent, add the lamb and peppers. Mix and mash over low heat. Add the tomatoes, and mix and mash some more. You don't want to cook the lamb completely, as that will happen in the oven. Make sure to mash pretty good, unless your lamb has been twice-ground (and if you have a butcher that will do that for you, can I move in?). An almost-spreadable consistency is what you're looking for. Mix in the chopped parsley and salt. Taste it (half-cooked lamb won't kill you) and adjust the salt if necessary.

Dump the lamb mixture into a colander over a bowl to drain. All that liquid (water from the tomatoes and fat from the lamb) may do horrendous things to your dough later.

Divide your dough into 4 pieces. Roll each one out really really thin. If you're lucky enough to have a pizza stone, use it. I'm not, so I used an inverted cookie sheet. (Watch those buggers, the thin ones like to warp and jump at high temperatures!) Spread 1/4 of the lamb onto the rolled-out dough. I use the word "spread" loosely. Spread is what I wanted. Smoosh and push around until it's even is what I got.

If you're using the inverted cookie sheet, I found that 5 minutes at 450, followed by 2-3 more minutes directly on the oven rack was sufficient.

Let cool a little, sprinkle with lemon juice, a little chopped parsley, and serve. 

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Roasted Marrow Bones a la Fergus Henderson

I'm sure you've seen Fergus Henderson's roasted marrow bones all over the interwebs these days. Heck, you can't throw a dead cow without hitting a blog post raving about them. I had to do it.

First off, I don't remember where I read about soaking the bones in brine for 24 hours, but I'm glad I did. Every other time I've had bone marrow (in dishes like braised beef shanks), it's been an unappetizing gray. I was assured that the brining, where you change the water a bunch of times over 24 hours, will leech all the blood out of the marrow, leaving you with a nice yellow color.  Definitely worth it, as this dish really needs help in the visual appeal department. It is, after all, the gooey gloppy insides of bones mashed onto toast.

Second, make sure you have some good crunchy salt. And good bread.

Lastly, I left the capers out of the parsley salad because my refrigerator mysteriously ate my jar, and I don't think I really missed them.

Rich, fatty and beefy on a vehicle of hearty and crunchy, topped with green and tangy. Amazing. Definitely not something to have every day (or every month for that matter). But you have to try it at least once.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The $4 Tomato

A long long time ago, I purchased a tomato plant for $4. I put it in a pot, surrounded it with a tomato trellis, and lovingly took care of it all summer. I had three lovely tomatoes, slowly ripening away. Every day I would go out and check on my babies, give them a little squeeze, and determine that they needed just one more day.

And then, without fail, on the morning of each one's perfect ripeness, I discovered its half-eaten remains. Who would have done this? Crows? My chihuahua? Some evil tomato-mauling thief?

Yes, it's sad, and I grieved appropriately, but I still had one tiny tomato left. I cared for it, nurtured it, determined that I would get at least one tomato from this plant. I threw an entire summer's worth of tomato-growing labor into that little green sphere. I watched the tiny fruit slowly turn from green to red, but never get bigger than about an inch in diameter (this is mid-November, after all, and tomato season is a thing of the past).

And then, this morning, I look outside to check on my baby, and.....he's gone! Wait, hold on, calm down. I shifted my eyes down to the ground. There he was. Perhaps he attempted suicide in the night, to avoid the horrendous tomato-eating monster? I quickly rescued him and brought him into the warmth of the house.

For perspective, that's a 5-lb chihuahua sniffing the tomato. Told you he was tiny.

After all he's been through, watching his brothers and sisters get eaten (but being powerless to stop it!), the cold nights, the terrifying fall to the ground...I don't have the heart to eat him.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Coffee Haiku

These are coffee odes.
I hope you enjoy reading
these poems today.

O percolator,
You give that which sustains life.
Life sucks without you.

That is not your cup.
Yours is the green Pokey one.
Hands off my cup, fool.

Coffee is sucky.
I hate it. It is bitter.
Coffee can suck it.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Asian Style Kohlrabi Salad

I bought a kohlrabi the other day. It was a monster. Literally, softball-sized. I was a little worried about it being fibrous and stringy, but it turned out to be just fine.

I didn't know what to do with it besides eat it raw, but I figured it would do well with an Asian-style dressing.

So I julienned up the kohlrabi and tossed it with some lemon juice. I don't know if kohlrabi turns brown, but I didn't want to take any chances. Which is kind of funny, really, since I added fish sauce and soy sauce later.

The dressing was a bit of sugar, some rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, and fish sauce, nuked just enough to dissolve the sugar. A few squirts of sriracha, and I was ready to go. Dump the dressing on the kohlrabi, toss a bit. Eat. Not bad, if I do say so myself.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Yes, I'm a bit late. You've probably all roasted your seeds already, or (sadly) thrown your pumpkin seeds in the trash or your compost heap. But whatever.

Clean your seeds by soaking them, and then running your hands through the seeds, picking out all the pumpkin gack. Drain the seeds, dry them off a bit with paper towels. Dump the seeds onto a baking tray, toss with some olive oil, and some good sea salt. I used a Trapani chunky salt that I found in my cabinet, and ground up in a little dish with my pestle.

Spread the seeds out into as even a layer as you can. Roast at 350-400 until they're done, stirring a few times.