Lachmagine (also known as lahmajun or lachmacun) is a meat-topped flatbread that’s a staple in Syrian homes. Yeasted dough is rolled out thinly and topped with a tangy, tamarind-laced ground beef mixture, then baked until golden. In its truest form, lachmagine are small rounds, about three bites worth. They’re typically served with tahini sauce, for dipping. The richness of the tahini is a great foil for the tangy meat.
Lachmagine is often served as part of the Syrian mazza (appetizer) course. All sorts of finger foods, pickles, salads and spreads are served at parties and sebbets (festive Shabbat lunch). This is one of the tastiest — and, unlike most other mazza, it doesn’t require frying, special equipment, or fancy fluting. It’s often a baby’s first taste of mazza, too.
When I was a kid, many of the community grandmas would prepare mass quantities of mazza several times a year to stock the freezer. On Fridays, the spare freezer door would be opened to reveal stacks of different containers, all filled with tiny bites ready to be baked or fried. I remember walking into my grandma’s house and knowing right away it was “Lachmagine Day.” The smell of caramelizing beef and tamarind would take over.
I loved watching the process. The dough was mixed and rolled out into thin sheets almost the size of the Formica kitchen table. A ravioli cutter was used to stamp out circles; for special occasions, there was a tiny fluted cutter. The circles were topped and baked and piled into roasting pans to cool off. (The steam from being stacked prevented the baked rounds from becoming tough.) I always tried to sneak one lachmagine from each tray, my own version of quality control.
Fast forward a few decades and, as a busy working mom of three, filling the freezer is staunchly last on my to-do list. Buying takeout Syrian food is easy here in New York City, and while purchased lachmagine is delicious, it doesn’t fill my home with the smell of grandma’s house. So, ever short on time, I modernized the traditional recipe to make use of store-bought pizza dough. Instead of three-bite circles, I stretch the dough into a sheet pan, my daughters’ tiny fingers helping to press it down, then portion it into three-bite rectangles. This format allows for lots of crispy edges, plus softer centers. One sheet pan will feed my family, but I generally make two. That way, there’s more than enough for pre-Shabbat nibbles, enough for the friend who pops in for kiddush and maybe, just maybe, enough for the freezer.
You can easily make lachmagine for Passover by swapping out the dough for sheets or small rounds of matzah (tea matzah), see Direction 7.
- Directions 1 and 2 can be done the night before. Cover the prepared dough with a piece of plastic wrap sprayed with cooking spray, and store in the refrigerator. When you’re ready to use it, uncover the dough and bring to room temperature before continuing with Direction 3.
- The meat mixture can be prepared the day before and stored in the fridge. Mix it well before pressing onto the dough. It can also be prepared and then frozen; I often make a double batch and freeze half.
- Cooked lachmagine freezes beautifully. Allow it to cool, cut into squares, then freeze on a sheet pan. Once frozen solid, store in zip-top freezer bags. To reheat, remove squares from the freezer and sprinkle the crust with water. This keeps the crust from drying out. Warm on a piece of foil in a 350°F degree oven.
- My favorite brand of tamarind sauce is Setton’s Farms. If you have access to a kosher supermarket, look for “prepared tamarind” near the tahini. This tamarind is exactly what my grandma makes: pulp, sugar and lemon juice simmered and strained. It’s ready to go right out of the jar and is the consistency of thick pancake batter. Here are some great alternatives.
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 cup tamarind sauce
- 3 Tbsp tomato paste
- juice of one lemon
- small onion, peeled and grated or minced
- 1 Tbsp ground allspice
- 1 Tbsp kosher salt
- ½ tsp red pepper flakes
- 2 balls pizza dough (1 lb each), or 4 matzah sheets/20 tea matzahs
- tahini sauce, for serving
- Start by prepping your dough, according to packet instructions. If using frozen dough, remove dough from the freezer and place in a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to proof. Depending on the temperature of your kitchen and the dough this can take several hours.
- When the dough is ready it will be puffy and spring back when poked. Small bubbles will have formed on the bottom of the bowl. Stretch dough to roughly fit a cookie sheet. Using your fingertips, press dough into the corners. If the dough is too elastic, allow it to rest for 10 minutes.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the ground beef, tamarind, tomato paste, lemon juice, onion, allspice, salt and red pepper flakes. Mix well with gloved hands until a cohesive mixture forms.
- Prick dough (dock) with a fork.
- Wearing gloves, press meat onto dough leaving a ½-inch border, making sure it adheres.
- Bake at 400°F for about 30 minutes. The meat will shrink slightly and turn a rich brown color. Allow to cool slightly before cutting into squares. Serve with tahini sauce.
- To make Passover lachmagine: Dip the matzah in a bowl of room temperature water, then shake off excess water. Place on a sheet tray and proceed with pressing the meat mixture on the dough. Be gentle, so the matzah doesn’t crack. Matzah-based lachmagine bake up quickly, so check the oven after 15 minutes, though matzah sheets may require an additional 5 minutes.