Why It Works
- This pie combines Armenian flavors and classic Italian pizza features, with a lahmajun-inspired lamb sausage and nigella-laced Armenian string cheese in place of low-moisture mozzarella.
- Using a dough specially formulated for high temperature outdoor pizza ovens produces perfectly baked pies with a crisp bottom and tender crust.
Lahmajun is an Armenian flatbread baked in a wood-fired oven that's topped with a spiced minced lamb topping, made bright red from the addition of tomato and red pepper paste. While it's often referred to by outsiders as "Armenian pizza" and it sort of resembles pizza, many Armenians (myself included) get a little annoyed by the comparison.
First of all, it—as with other related meat-topped flatbreads from the Middle East—likely predates the invention of pizza. I’m no food historian, so I have no idea if it's true, but I've read arguments that pizza may have been inspired by lahmajun—or the idea of it, as a thin, round, vegetable- and/or meat-topped topped flatbread—thanks to the migration of peoples from the Caucasus and Levant to Sicily via Greece. Secondly, while the two are superficially similar, there are differences: lahmajun is topped with a very thin layer of wet, meat-heavy paste, rather than a sauce; the dough is rolled out very thinly and baked in a very hot oven, which causes it to take on a crackly exterior with a tender interior; and lahmajun is generally eaten whole, often rolled up around a chopped salad, rather than sliced.
To be clear, while I don’t spend a whole lot of time worrying about how non-Armenians refer to lahmajun, the discourse around it (such as it is) made me recently wonder: What might an actual Armenian pizza—meaning a real Italian pie, topped with Armenian ingredients and flavors—look like? Which is how I came up with this one.
I gave it a nod to lahmajun by creating a lamb sausage mixture made from the same basic seasonings: parsley, hot red pepper paste, tomato paste, allspice, cumin, garlic, and paprika. In place of mozzarella, I used Armenian string cheese, which is very similar to mozzarella, but is formed into a rope that can be pulled apart into threads, and is spiced with nigella seeds. And I finished it with ground sumac—the tart red-hued spice that's essential to za’atar seasoning—and more parsley, an herb beloved to Armenians.
Finally, this pizza recipe is meant to be baked in a blazing hot outdoor tabletop pizza oven, using an outdoor pizza oven dough I developed. But the topping combination can be used on a home oven pie, too, using a dough formulated for that purpose.
- 1 recipe for outdoor pizza oven pizza dough
- 8 ounces (225g) ground lamb or 85% lean ground beef
- 1 packed cup (15g) fresh parsley leaves and tender stems, roughly chopped, divided
- 2 tablespoons (30g) mild or hot biber salçasi pepper paste (see note)
- 1 tablespoon (15g) tomato paste
- 1 garlic clove (5g), finely minced
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 (28-ounce; 795g) can whole peeled tomatoes, drained, juices reserved
- 8 ounces (225g) Armenian string cheese, pulled into medium threads
- Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
- 2 teaspoons ground sumac
Remove dough from refrigerator and allow to rest in proofing containers, covered, at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours before baking. Dough temperature should reach 60°F (15.5°C) before stretching and baking; exact timing will depend upon ambient temperature.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine 4 teaspoons parsley, biber salçasi, tomato paste, garlic, allspice, paprika, cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Stir with spatula until smooth paste forms. Add lamb and knead gently with hands until thoroughly combined. Cover and refrigerate until needed; mixture can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours.
Using a countertop or immersion blender, process tomatoes until a coarse but evenly blended sauce forms, about 10 seconds. Transfer to a 2-cup liquid measuring cup; if needed, add reserved tomato liquid to yield 2 cups (475ml) sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.
Preheat pizza oven to 800°F (425°C). When ready to bake, coat one dough ball generously on both sides with flour and place on well-floured surface, seam side down. Gently press out dough into rough 8-inch circle, leaving outer 1-inch higher than the rest. Gently stretch dough into a 10- or 12-inch circle (final dimension depends upon the size of your oven) about 1/4-inch thick by draping over knuckles and gently stretching. Transfer to floured wooden or perforated metal pizza peel.
Working quickly, spread an even layer of tomato sauce over pizza, leaving outer 1/2-inch rim untopped. Spread string cheese evenly over sauce, then dollop meat mixture over pizza in small chunks. Drizzle with olive oil.
Transfer pizza to oven and bake, rotating pie regularly with a metal peel for even cooking, until rim is lightly charred and bottom is crisp, 90 to 180 seconds total. Retrieve pizza with a metal peel and transfer to a cutting board. Sprinkle with parsley and sumac, slice, and serve immediately.
Repeat steps 5 through 7 for remaining pizzas.
High-temperature outdoor pizza oven, wooden or perforated metal pizza peel, metal pizza peel.
Biber salçasi can be found in Middle Eastern grocery stores or online. If unavailable, increase tomato paste to 3 tablespoons, paprika to 4 teaspoons, and add 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne.
If Armenian string cheese is unavailable, substitute 8 ounces (225g) low-moisture mozzarella, shredded, tossed with 1/4 teaspoon nigella seeds (if available).
Ground sumac can also be found at Middle Eastern markets or online.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Lamb sausage mixture can be made in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 24 hours.