I’ve tested this vegan lahmacun (Turkish pizza) a few times because I really wanted to make sure I get this right. Lahmacun is one of the most iconic and loved foods in Turkey uniting the diverse identities of the nation in one dish. Perhaps, this is the dish that has also brought the happiest and most satisfying to my family.
My mom makes it now whenever me or my brother visit my parents. It is this delicious special dish that the whole family always looked forward to. I used to help her roll the dough when I was small. However, I stopped eating it due to my philosophy and because this amount of meat (and white flour) just makes me feel tired and exhausted.
When my internship at noma ended, we cooked more at the noma house (a shared flat with chefs who staged at noma). It was a culinary hotspot inspiring endless trials. Someone always had a project going on. I decided I want to give this idea of a vegan lahmacun a shot.
If you don’t know lahmcun yet, here is an authentic recipe.
A New Approach To Vegan Lahmacun
I often see these vegan ground meat substitutes trying to mimic meat in any way they can.. when changing habits and choosing not to indulge in things that brought you joy you have the choice to find new ways. One thing is to create a substitute that gives you somewhat similar joy but it can’t really match up.
The other is to create something that focuses on what you actually enjoy about the dish and create something new with it – perhaps even better. Partly, I am not a vegetarian because I am dedicated to vegan cuisine. I’m trying to cook good whole plant-based foods. How could my food match up if I can’t even compare it to non-vegan food?
With this version of lahmacun I am very happy that I have something that I actually prefer to the original meat-based dish. If I’d be in a room where no one sees me and there is this version and the original version next to it, I’d choose this version 100 out of 100 times.
Rethinking an Untouchable Classic
The first directions I thought of were rather complicated but then I honestly asked myself: What do I love about lahmacun? It is the crunch and this typically Turkish and unique flavour combination of tomato, red pointed pepper, parsley, onion and garlic with an all-embracing and comforting umami that is not at all depending on meat.
And I realised it can be as simple as just ditching the meat, adding a good amount of miso or bell pepper paste and focusing on toppings like you do with tacos. An epic taco night with my noma friends triggered this idea. And similar to a taco, this version of lahmacun is not quite complete without some great toppings – even though it is delicious on its own.
Removing and Adding an Essential Element
The reason for that is that it is very close to the original this way – too close if you ask me. If you are omitting an essential element from a dish, you need to add something new to it in order not to disappoint. Miso is adding fantastic umami and harmony but it’s light in contrast to meat. Which is why, when eaten with salad only, as it is common with lahmacun, the dish would lack some grounding.
Anyone who knows lahmacun will think “What’s the point of a vegan lahmacun?” And indeed, veganising a classic like this is a slippery slope. But like this, you are approaching it in a new way without trying to recreate the exact same eating experience.
Another recipe that might interest you is this Savoury Vegan Sourdough Pancakes recipe where you also feast on gorgeous toppings with some pancakes in your hand.
Making the dough is really simple. Even if you don’t put anything into it to leaven your dough, you’ll be fine. Since you don’t need much of a rise here, gluten-free or heritage grains are a good choice here. I used about 85% einkorn flour and added whole wheat flour.
Alright, it is beautifully simple. Let’s dive in.
Vegan Lahmacun (Turkish Pizza)
- 110 g flour
- 70 ml water
- 2 g salt
- ⅓ or 1 tsp instant yeast or sourdough starter
- ½ onion
- 3 sprigs parsley thick part of the stalks removed (use here for example)
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 large tomato chopped
- ⅓ red pointed pepper or bell pepper
- 1 tbsp miso
- ¾ tsp tomato paste
- chilli flakes amount depending on spiciness
- salt, pepper
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- optional: 2 tbsp dried red pointed pepper or bell pepper chopped
- In a large bowl, combine the water and the yeast or starter, add the flour and salt, and let sit for at least 30 (yeast) or 60 min (sourdough) or until the dough has risen considerably.
- Either chop the onion, parsley, garlic, tomato and red pointed pepper finely or pulse them in a food processor or blender.
- Press out the tomato juice over a sieve. Save the juice for a topping or dressing.
- Flour a surface area and form small balls of the dough – weighing about 30 g if you want to be precise. Put flour on the dough, roll it thinly and place it on a heated pan. Once the pan is hot, turn down to low heat.
- Immediately spread the spread thinly on top of the dough with a spoon and cover with a lid if you have one.
- Cook for about 2 to 3 minutes, or until the dough is crispy but not dry. Check the bottom to prevent any burning.
- Top with olives, salads, sauces, leftovers and pickles. Eat it with your hands, like a taco.