Thursday, April 12, 2012

Herbed Cheese Pizza (Lahmacun)

Tonight, I took a little journey in my kitchen to Turkey.  The country is experiencing quite a moment for its meze - appetizers and other noshes - in up-and-coming restaurants.  I figured it would be fun to highlight a vegan version of lahmacun, Turkey's take on pizza.

I thought long and hard before making this recipe about how to replace the kasseri cheese, a sheep's milk cheese from Greece and Turkey.  Having never tasted the variety back in my cheese-eating days, I wanted to make sure I came as close as possible with whatever vegan brand I chose.  Online descriptions call the cheese "buttery" and suggest provolone and mozzarella as substitutes.  The best "buttery" mozzarella I know of is from Follow Your Heart Vegan Gourmet, so ultimately that's what I decided to go with here.  But if you haven't yet heard, Daiya has just started making wedges in addition to its shreds, so perhaps this pizza is the perfect opportunity to try out a Daiya wedge. If so, let me know how your version turns out.

For the dough:
  • 2 cups bread flour, divided
  • 1 teaspoon vegan sugar
  • 2 packages dry yeast (about 4 and 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 2 cups warm water (between 100 and 110 degrees), divided
  • 2 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • Cooking spray
For the topping:
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon hot paprika
  • 3/4 teaspoon black pepper, divided
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 (28-ounce) undrained can diced tomatoes
  • 10 ounces thinly sliced Vegan Gourmet mozzarella
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1. To prepare the dough, lightly spoon the bread flour into dry measuring cups and level with a knife.  Combine 1 cup bread flour in a bowl with the sugar, yeast, and 1 cup warm water; let stand for 15 minutes.  Oh those beautiful bubbles - a sure sign of happy, healthy yeast:

2. Lightly spoon the all-purpose flour into dry measuring cups and level with a knife.  Combine 2 cups of the all-purpose flour with the remaining 1 cup bread flour and 1 teaspoon salt in a large bowl.  Make a well in the center of the mixture and add the yeast mixture, the remaining 1 cup warm water, and 2 teaspoons olive oil; stir well.  Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead just until smooth and elastic; add enough of the remaining 1/2 cup all-purpose flour as needed, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent the dough from sticking to your hands.  Indeed, I found the dough to be quite sticky, so added some of the extra flour while the dough was still in the bowl, and only kneaded for a few minutes.  For a reminder on kneading, check out this link.

3.  Place the dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning so the top is coated as well.  Cover and let rise some place warm and free from drafts (such as an unheated, closed oven) for 45 minutes.  Punch the dough down and divide into 8 portions; cover and let rest for 20 minutes. 

Well hello there adorable little portions of dough:

4. Meanwhile, prepare the topping: combine the oregano, cumin, paprika, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper in a small bowl; set aside.

5. Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and saute for 3 minutes.  Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, the garlic, the bay leaf, and the canned tomatoes; bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 15 to 30 minutes, until thick.  Remove from heat and discard the bay leaf.

6. Back to the dough - roll each portion into a 6-inch circle on a lightly floured surface, working with 1 portion at a time (keep the remaining dough covered to prevent it from drying), and then place on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray.  Repeat with the remaining dough.

7. Top each crust with about 1/4 cup tomato mixture.  Divide the cheese evenly among the pizzas (about 1 and 1/4 ounces each), and sprinkle each with 1/2 teaspoon oregano mixture.

8. Bake at 450 degrees for 12 minutes - the crusts should just be lightly browned.  Sprinkle evenly with the parsley.

Want to continue the Turkish theme?  Serve with store-bought dolmas (stuffed grape leaves - just make sure they don't contain feta or meat) and other finger foods like sweet sticky dates.

Note: if you're short on time, you could use store-bought pizza crusts (either individual 6-inch ones, or two 12-inch crusts, and then slice into wedges), but I really don't recommend it.  This homemade version is one of the yummiest pizza doughs I've ever eaten.

Nutrition Info:
8 servings (1 pizza), Calories 434 

Tasting Notes:
Utterly awesome - a soft pillowy dough topped with savory tomato sauce, wonderful spice blend, and melty mozzarella.  I was worried the spices would be too hot, but it was the oregano that came through best - delicious in combination with the crust and cheese.  A minor complaint is that I would have liked the crust a little crisper; I've never had traditional lahmacun, so not sure if such a soft crust is normal, but I would cook for about 5 to 10 minutes longer.  But that doesn't stop this recipe from earning a rating of '5.'


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