May 3, 2010
Jill is the world traveler in our family. Given the nature of her work, she finds herself among the air-mile elite, logging thousands of miles a year for book tours, speaking engagements, and a few times at the behest of Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan. She has been four times to Turkey, to Israel, Jordan, & Egypt, and all over Europe—at the moment, as the scholar-in-residence on a group trip to Macedonia & Croatia.
There are things I don’t love about the frequency of her travel. Our dog, Dolly, who is convinced that Jill is God & I am God’s secondary consort who will do if God is not around, pouts from the moment she sees Jill pack a suitcase to the moment Jill walks back through the front door. Selfishly speaking, it’s inconvenient to go from a two-person household to a one-person. I enjoy my alone time, but I hate doing all of the dishes, all of the cooking, all of the chores, all of the dog-attending. And I miss Jill. She is my favorite person to spend time with, my beloved, my sounding-board. I feel a bit thrown when she’s away; I worry.
At the same time, I wouldn’t put a stop to her travel even if I could. When I signed up to live my life with Jill, I did so with the understanding that it’s my job to broaden her, to cheerlead the pursuits to which she is so clearly suited, to celebrate the work about which she is so passionate. To push her to be her biggest and most expansive self. And that she would, as she so gracefully does, do the same for me.
Of course, there are tremendous benefits to Jill’s travel. Frequent flier miles, a thousand stories and hundreds of photographs, and the sense of having contributed to the growth and expansion of all those whom she meets and inspires on her travels. Not to mention—exposure to all kinds of food. Jill has been lucky to eat at some incredibly drool-worthy places, from river cruises on the Nile to the humble kitchens of local hosts and hostesses, who generously treat her to sumptuous home-cooked meals.
Now Jill loves food, but she’s not obsessed with it the way I am. She has, though, in one of those non-ostentatious but incredibly meaningful displays of affection, altered her travel habits to include regular pictures of and notes on the food she eats. And she’s learned that the presents that thrill me most—like this Scandinavian honey—are food related. (I’m still hording the homemade, mystery fruit preserves from her last trip to Jordan and a tiny bottle of mystery liquor from Latvia.)
We’ve also, as a family, adopted many of the tastes and preferences she brings back with her from various countries. It pushes us to seek out restaurants, grocery stores, & home cooks here in Houston with whose help we can attempt to replicate the good stuff she has eaten, allowing me to taste along with her. Lahmajun, a classic Turkish dish, is one of our favorites and I am proud to say that Jill declared my version “just as good” as the best ones she had eaten abroad.
These make for a perfect weekend lunch or light dinner, especially when served with a green salad and cold, pale beer or white wine. A bit labor intensive but well worth it—these flew off the serving platter on blog-recipe-test day!
Many recipes for lahmajun topping will call for the addition of pomegranate molasses or syrup, which you can pick up at most Middle Eastern grocery stores. I didn’t have any on hand that day, so I substituted preserved lemon to add a similar tart edge to the dish.
1 cup bread flour (substitute all-purpose if need be, but bread flour truly does yield better results)
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup warm water
1 T olive oil
1 tsp. yeast
pinch of sugar
pinch of salt
Sprinkle the yeast & sugar over the warm water and leave five minutes. If the yeast hasn’t bloomed, throw it out and start over. If not, add the flours & oil and knead by hand or with the dough hook on a mixer. Knead until dough is smooth and elastic.
Leave the dough to rise in an oiled bowl, covered with a cloth or plastic warp, for about an hour. Place the dough in a warm place to help it double in size.
1 lb. ground lamb (substitute: ground beef or turkey)
½ onion, chopped
3 gloves garlic, minced
¼ cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
1 preserved lemon, minced (substitute: juice + zest of 1 regular lemon)
2 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. harissa paste (optional)
1 tsp. salt
Sauté the onion & garlic in a little olive oil. When they become translucent, add the lamb and cook until it browns. Remove from heat, stir in the remaining ingredients.
extra parsley, chopped
3 T melted butter
Once the dough has risen, punch it back down and divide into eight pieces. A bench scraper is very handy for this step; just keep halving the dough until you get to eight. You can also use a kitchen scale if you are a fanatic for equal-sized pieces of dough. I’m not.
There are two ways to bake the lahmajun—all at once, on baking sheets or one at a time, on a pizza stone. I used the latter method because it seems more authentic and because I like the crisp edges it achieves. However, if you need all of your lahmajun to be ready at once, just assemble them all, move them carefully to greased baking sheets, and bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through.
If you plan to make them in succession, though, I suggest waiting to roll each piece of dough until you’re ready to top it & put it in the oven—it is likely to dry out otherwise. Keeping the dough pieces covered with a damp cloth will help as well.
Roll each piece of dough into a rough circle. Top with about a quarter-cup of the lamb mixture, spreading out evenly but leaving a half-inch border of plain dough. Brush the border with melted butter.
Use a large spatula to transfer directly to a well-preheated pizza stone and cook for 8-10 minutes or until the edges become nice and brown. Remove from oven and garnish with extra parsley. Enjoy when warm.