The Middle East has a rich cultural heritage, breathtaking landscapes, and, most importantly, a tantalizing array of flavors. One such culinary gem that has captivated the taste buds of food enthusiasts worldwide is the sfiha. Bursting with aromatic spices, savory meat, and a delicate dough, sfiha is a delectable Middle Eastern treat that will transport you to the bustling streets of Beirut, Damascus, or Istanbul with every bite.
Sfiha, sometimes referred to as "Arabic pizza," is a traditional dish originating from the Levant region. Its origins can be traced back centuries; it has become an essential part of Middle Eastern cuisine. What sets sfiha apart is its unique combination of spices and ingredients, resulting in a distinct and utterly irresistible flavor profile.
If you've ever had the pleasure of tasting sfiha at a local Middle Eastern restaurant, you know how addictive it can be. But what if you could recreate this delicious dish in the comfort of your own kitchen? In this blog post, we will guide you through the process of making lahm bi ajeen sfiha from scratch, unveiling the secrets behind its flavorful filling and perfectly baked dough.
lahm bi ajeen (sfiha) Recipe
1 hour and 30 minutes
Homemade Dough recipe
1. Take a small bowl and mix together warm water, sugar, and yeast. Give it a gentle stir and allow it to rest for approximately 5 minutes until the yeast develops a foamy texture. If it does not become foamy, it means your yeast is dead.
2. In a large sized mixing bowl, blend the flour and salt together. Create a hollow space in the Middle and pour in the yeast mixture and olive oil. Combine all the ingredients thoroughly until they form a soft dough.
3. Gently move the dough onto a surface dusted with a small amount of flour, and knead it for approximately 5-7 minutes until it becomes smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a greased bowl, covering it with a clean kitchen towel. Let the dough rise in a warm location. Allow the dough to rise for about 1 hour or until the dough rises double in size.
4. Meanwhile, prepare the meat topping. Add the ground beef, tomato paste, lemon juice, parsley, cumin, cinnamon, allspice, salt, and pepper in a mixing bowl. Mix until well combined.
5. Set your oven to a temperature of 425°F (220°C) in advance.
6. Gently deflate the risen dough and separate it into small balls, approximately the size of a golf ball. Take each dough ball and roll it out into a thin circle measuring around 4-5 inches in diameter.
7. Arrange the dough circles on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Spoon a generous amount of the meat mixture and spread it onto the center of each dough circle, leaving a small border around the edges.
8. Place the sfiha in the preheated oven and bake for 12-15 minutes or until the edges of the dough become golden brown and crispy.
9. Take out the oven and allow them to cool for a few minutes prior to serving. Sfiha is traditionally enjoyed warm and served with lemon wedges.
Tips & Notes
Dough consistency: While preparing the dough, ensure that you attain a soft and elastic texture. If the dough feels excessively sticky, gradually incorporate additional flour. Conversely, add a small amount of warm water if it appears too dry. This will ensure a good texture for the base.
Resting time for the dough: Allow the dough to rise for the recommended time or until it doubles in size. This particular step holds great importance in attaining a light and fluffy texture.
Rolling out the dough: Aim for a thin and even thickness when rolling out the dough circles. The thicker dough can lead to a doughy texture, while thinner dough creates a crispier base.
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 7.7g
Saturated Fat 2.3g
Total Carbohydrate 14.5g
Dietary Fiber 0.9g
Total Sugars 1.5g
Vitamin D 0mcg
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calorie a day is used for general nutrition advice.
Meat selection: Opt for ground lamb or beef that contains a good amount of fat to enhance both the flavor and moisture content. Lean meat can result in a drier filling. You can also mix lamb and beef for a combination of flavors.
Proper assembly: Leave a small border around the edges when placing the meat mixture on the dough circles. This will prevent the filling from overflowing during baking.
Without The Dough: If you don't have time to make the dough from scratch, you can use store-bought pizza dough, naan bread, or pocked pita bread! If using pita bread as the base, be sure to open the pita and spread the meat mixture onto the bread.
What is Sfiha?
Sfiha, some refer to as lahm bi ajeen, Lebanese meat pies, or Middle Eastern meat pies, is a popular dish in Middle Eastern cuisine, particularly in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and other countries in the region. It is a type of savory pastry that is typically enjoyed as a street food or appetizer.
Sfiha consists of a thin, round, or oval-shaped dough topped with a flavorful mixture of ground meat, usually lamb or beef, mixed with various herbs and spices. The dough is very similar to pizza dough. The meat mixture is typically seasoned with ingredients such as onions, tomatoes, parsley, garlic, cumin, and sometimes chili peppers or other spices, depending on regional variations.
Once the meat mixture is spread over the dough, the sfiha is baked in the oven until the dough is crispy and the meat is cooked through. It is commonly served with a squeeze of lemon juice and maybe garnished with additional parsley or other herbs.
Sfiha can be enjoyed hot or at room temperature, and it is often served as part of a mezze platter or as an appetizer at gatherings or special occasions. It is a delicious and versatile dish that highlights Middle Eastern culinary traditions, offering a delightful array of rich flavors.
What You Will Need To Make lahm bi ajeen (sfiha)
The primary ingredient in the dough is flour, and all-purpose flour is often preferred for its ideal combination of protein and starch, yielding a versatile and tender dough. This flour forms the foundation of the Sfiha base, imparting a light and airy texture to the final product.
Active dry yeast
Yeast, a microorganism, plays a vital role in the dough by fermenting the sugars and generating carbon dioxide gas. This gas is responsible for the dough's leavening, causing it to expand and attain a light and fluffy texture. To activate active dry yeast, it is necessary to dissolve it in warm water with sugar before incorporating it into the dough. It provides a characteristic airy texture and pleasant aroma to the sfiha.
Sugar serves as nourishment for the yeast, fueling its growth and activity. It helps activate the yeast by providing the necessary energy to ferment the dough. Additionally, a small amount of sugar can enhance the flavor of the dough by adding a subtle sweetness.
Salt is essential for flavoring the dough. It enhances the overall taste and helps balance the dough's sweetness and meat topping. Salt plays a crucial role in regulating the fermentation process by effectively managing the yeast's activity. It strengthens the gluten structure in the dough, giving it better texture and elasticity.
Olive oil contributes moisture, tenderness, and a subtle fruity flavor to the dough. In addition, olive oil enhances the texture of the dough and aids in maintaining its moisture level, preventing it from becoming excessively dry. Olive oil also adds a distinct Mediterranean touch to the sfiha.
Warm water is utilized to initiate the activation process of the yeast. It should be at a temperature range of 100°F (38°C) to 110°F (43°C). Warm water dissolves the yeast and sugar, providing the ideal environment for the yeast to become active and ferment the dough.
Ground lamb or beef
Ground lamb or beef forms the flavorful meat topping for sfiha. Lamb has a distinct and robust flavor that adds depth to the dish, while beef has a milder taste. The fat content in ground meat contributes to moisture and richness. The decision between lamb and beef is contingent upon personal taste preferences and regional differentiations.
Onion and garlic
Onion and garlic are aromatics that provide savory and aromatic flavors to the meat mixture. They contribute depth and complexity to the dish, elevating its flavors to a whole new level. Onions also bring a touch of sweetness, while garlic enhances the overall savory profile. Freshly chopped onions and minced garlic are commonly used, but substitutes like onion powder or dried minced onions can be used when fresh ingredients aren't available.
Tomato paste, a concentrated form of tomato, imparts a rich and intense tomato flavor to the meat topping, significantly elevating its taste profile. It contributes to the color and consistency of the filling, giving it a slightly tangy and savory taste. If tomato paste isn't on hand, tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes can be used as alternatives, but they may affect the consistency of the filling.
Finely chopped parsley adds freshness and a pop of color to the meat mixture. It provides a subtle herbaceous note and balances the richness of the meat. Parsley adds a refreshing element to the sfiha. If parsley is not available, you can substitute it with cilantro or mint for a different flavor profile.
Lemon juice adds tanginess and acidity to the meat mixture. It brightens the flavors and cuts through the meat's richness, resulting in a more balanced filling. The citrusy notes of lemon juice complement the spices and provide a pleasant zing. Lime juice can be used as an alternative if lemon juice is not accessible.
Spices (cumin, cinnamon, allspice)
These spices are the key flavor components of the meat topping, giving sfiha its distinctive Middle Eastern taste. Cumin introduces an earthy and subtly nutty flavor, while cinnamon imparts a touch of sweetness and warmth. Allspice contributes a complex and aromatic taste, combining elements of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Blending these spices together creates a harmonious flavor profile that perfectly complements the meat and other ingredients in the sfiha.
Adding pomegranate molasses to the Sfiha recipe can be a fantastic way to introduce a tangy and slightly sweet flavor to the dish. Pomegranate molasses is a dense syrup created by simmering and reducing pomegranate juice. It has a rich and tart taste with a hint of sweetness, making it a popular ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisine.
You can usually find pomegranate molasses in Middle Eastern or specialty grocery stores. If it's not readily available, you can make a homemade version by simmering pomegranate juice until it reduces and thickens into a syrupy consistency. Keep in mind that homemade versions may have slight variations in flavor compared to store-bought ones.
How To Elevate This Lahm Bi Ajeen (Sfiha) Recipe
Add additional spices
While the traditional recipe calls for cumin, cinnamon, and allspice, you can experiment with other spices to enhance the flavor. Consider adding a pinch of paprika, sumac, or ground coriander for an extra layer of complexity.
Incorporate fresh herbs
Besides parsley, you can introduce other fresh herbs to the meat mixture or use them as a garnish. Fresh mint, cilantro, or basil can bring vibrant and aromatic flavors to the sfiha.
Try different meats or protein alternatives
While ground lamb or beef are commonly used, you can explore other protein options. Ground chicken, turkey, or a blend of various types of meat offer distinct flavors, allowing for a range of unique taste experiences. For vegetarian or vegan options, try substituting the meat with crumbled tofu, cooked lentils, or a mix of finely chopped vegetables and mushrooms.
Include additional toppings
Expand the range of flavors and textures by adding toppings to the sfiha. Before baking, contemplate garnishing the meat mixture with crumbled feta cheese, sliced olives, or diced tomatoes for an added touch of flavor and visual appeal. For extra creaminess, you can also drizzle a tahini sauce or yogurt-based sauce over the baked sfiha.
Experiment with dough variations
Although the traditional Sfiha dough employs all-purpose flour, you can explore various flour types to infuse a distinctive twist. Consider combining whole wheat flour with all-purpose flour to introduce a nuttier flavor and achieve a slightly denser texture. Alternatively, incorporate some semolina flour for added texture and a golden color.
Infuse flavors into the meat mixture
For a more pronounced flavor, marinate the ground meat in a mixture of olive oil, fresh lemon juice, garlic, and spices for a few hours or overnight before cooking. This will help the flavors penetrate the meat, leading to a more aromatic and succulent filling.
Serve with flavorful sauces and dips
Alongside the sfiha, offer a variety of flavorful sauces and dips to complement the dish. Tzatziki sauce, tahini sauce, or a spicy harissa sauce can provide contrasting flavors and creaminess.
Add a touch of heat
For those who relish spicy flavors, contemplate incorporating a dash of chili powder, cayenne pepper, or crushed red pepper flakes into the meat mixture. This addition will infuse a subtle kick to the sfiha, tantalizing your taste buds.
Add Pine Nuts
Adding toasted pine nuts can introduce a delightful nutty flavor and a pleasant crunch to the dish. Heat a dry skillet over medium heat and add the pine nuts. Continuously stir the ingredients for a few minutes until they transform into a delightful golden brown hue, emitting a fragrant aroma. Exercise caution to avoid burning them, as they can rapidly shift from toasted to charred. Once toasted, transfer them to a plate to cool down.
Once the meat mixture is prepared, generously sprinkle the toasted pine nuts on top. Carefully fold them into the mixture, ensuring they are evenly distributed throughout. The pine nuts will add a wonderful textural element and a pleasant crunch to each bite of the sfiha.
How To Store Leftovers
Before storing, allow the remaining sfiha to cool completely at room temperature. This step is crucial in preventing condensation and preserving the dough's texture. Store the leftover sfiha in an airtight container or tightly wrap it with plastic wrap. It can be refrigerated for up to 3-4 days.
If you anticipate that the leftover sfiha won't be consumed within a few days, it can be frozen for extended storage. Individually wrap each piece with plastic wrap or place them in a freezer-safe container. Frozen sfiha can be stored for up to 2-3 months, maintaining its quality.
When you're ready to enjoy the leftover sfiha, reheat it in the oven to revive its flavors and texture. To start, preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C). Arrange the sfiha on a baking sheet and bake for approximately 10-15 minutes or until it is heated through. This will result in a crispy dough and a warm meat topping. Alternatively, you can use a microwave if you prefer a faster reheating method. Simply place a single piece of sfiha on a microwave-safe plate and heat it on medium power for 30 seconds to 1 minute or until it is thoroughly warmed. Be cautious not to overheat, as this can lead to the dough becoming rubbery.