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.