Lahma Bi Ajeen! Yah what?
As promised in my last post, I am diving back into the Middle East and dusting off another obscure dish to whet your appetites with.
The Ancient Kingdom of Aram is mentioned in the Old Testament, a kingdom that flourished around the same time as David’s Kingdom of Judah. Aram occupied the geographic area we know today as modern Syria and is the origin of the Aramaic language spoken by many different ethnic groups including the Jews across the region both before and at the time of Jesus. Aramaic is still spoken in a few Christian communities in Syria and Lebanon and some of the most important Jewish prayers recited to this day are recited in Aramaic.
Lahma means meat in Arabic and Bi Ajeen means ‘in dough’. Lahma Bi Ajeen hails from the Syrian region of the Eastern Mediterranean. Claudia Roden, the well known Middle East/Jewish food writer, describes this dish as “one of the traditional fast food snacks sold in the streets” around the Middle East. Traditionally it is made with tamarind paste which stains both the dough and the meat a very dark brown.
As time has passed the dish has transformed itself to become seasoned minced meat on a tomato sauce base on half a piece of pita bread. This is probably because pita bread is so cheap up here and can be easily purchased fresh at all times of the day. As we are all participants in that instant world, it’s just not worth your while to make and bake the original dough recipe. I have never eaten nor seen the original dish, but today it’s pretty much tomato sauce and seasoned mince on half a bought pita.
Lahma Bi Ajeen is one of those low effort high reward Sunday type meals, a bit like mince on toast, something that can be enjoyed by three-year-olds and thirty-year-olds alike.
Lahma Bi Ajeen
Ingredients: makes about 8 servings
- Fresh ground beef mince x 1 kg
- Onion diced fine x 1
- Crushed garlic teeth x 4
- Washed bunch parsley chopped
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Tomato sauce
- Tamarind paste (optional)
- Fresh pita bread x 4 pieces
Put ground beef, onion, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper into a bowl, mix well and set aside. The pita bread should be cut along the seam so that two whole round halves are obtained from each pita bread.
Place the pita halves inside up on baking paper on a tray, squeeze a generous lump of tomato sauce onto each pita half and spread evenly (if you want to add tamarind paste or something spicy, spread a little on the tomato sauce). Divide the minced beef mixture into eight equal portions and spread it evenly over the top of the tomato sauce. I use a fork to squash the mince down and ensure it becomes one with the pita bread.
Turn the oven onto grill, 200 C and place the oven tray near the top. It takes about 7-10 minutes or until the meat is browned and bubbling and spitting.
Next week we will stay in the Middle Eastern kitchen and try our luck at a good, real slow cooking Sabbath stew known to Jews from Arab lands as Chamin and to their Northern and Eastern European brethren as Cholent.
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