Nov. 22, 1943 marks the day when christian Bechara El Khoury, who fought for the independence of Lebanon, is released from prison. He is then elected President of the Lebanese Republic.
The current Lebanese flag also dates from 1943. It is composed of two red horizontal stripes symbolizing the sacrifices that were made for its independence, separated by a blank space representing purity, peace, and snow, so amazing in this region the world, which covers the mountains of the country. At the center of the flag, in green, is the famous cedar tree of Lebanon, the emblem of the country.
It is said that it is with this precious wood, known for being very light and robust that Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem was built around the tenth century BC.
Lebanon is a small country in size with an area of only 4,000 square miles, smaller than the state of Connecticut!
Lebanese cuisine is a diverse, warm and very fragrant cuisine that we have featured a few times already on 196 flavors, with mezzes (tabbouleh, spinach fatayers, moutabal) and manaïch bread, as well as fattoush salad.
“The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”, famous Lebanese proverb
This proverb is definitely a great inspiration to me!
The recipe I decided to prepare today has two names: lahm bi ajin (or lahm bi ajeen) in Lebanese dialect or sfiha in Arabic.
Lahm bi ajin is presented as small pizzas as illustrated in my recipe, whereas for sfiha, even if the recipe is the same, the result is closer to triangular pies where the crust on the edges is folded over.
These “Arabic pizzas” probably date back to the fifteenth century and would have appeared in the region of the Beqaa Valley in Eastern Lebanon close to the Syrian border, the capital of which is Baalbek. An Iraqi family named Haidar is at the origin of the recipe.
This specialty is typically served as a hot mezze (appetizer). The word mezze comes from the Arabic word maza, which is a variant of the verb tamazzaza which means “to taste in small bites”.
Even if it is more unusual, it is possible to find these lahm bi ajin in large format, folded in half and presented like a sandwich.
“To the hungry, bread bakes slowly”
This is another of my favorite Lebanese proverbs. And it is definitely the case for lahm bi ajin!
- 2 cups flour
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- ½ cup warm water
- 1 lb ground beef or lamb (or a mixture of both)
- 1 onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- ½ bunch parsley
- ½ bunch cilantro
- 2 tomatoes
- Hot chili pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1 tablespoon 4-spice blend (black pepper, clove, ginger, nutmeg)
- 4 oz. pine nuts
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Prepare the dough by mixing the flour, sugar and yeast.
- Pour warm water and mix without kneading for a minute.
- Then add the vegetable oil and salt and knead for 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and does not stick to the edges of the container.
- Cover and let rise for 45 minutes.
- Chop the onion and garlic. Fry in hot olive oil until the onion becomes translucent.
- Then incorporate paprika, 4-spice blend, chili pepper (optional) and stir for 2-3 minutes.
- Finely chop the parsley and cilantro. Finely dice tomatoes.
- Add the meat to the pan and mix well, then add the herbs and tomatoes. Add salt and pepper.
- Simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- In a dry skillet, toast the pine nuts, stirring constantly.
- Knead the dough for a minute, then divide it into fifteen equal balls.
- Spread each ball of dough into thin circles with a rolling pin.
- Place the dough circles on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Divide filling among all mini pizzas.
- Press lightly with the back of a fork to squeeze the topping so that it adheres to the dough.
- Garnish with toasted pine nuts.
- Bake for about 10-15 minutes in an oven preheated to 400 F.
- Lahm bi ajin meat pies are ready when the crust on the edges is golden.