Lahm Bi Ajeen, which literally translates to "meat on dough" is a classic Iraqi dish. It is made with the perfect mixture of ground beef (or lamb), vegetables and spices spread on soft dough, and baked to perfection. A middle Eastern classic that's enjoyed at all meals! This recipe includes a very easy dough, and a filling that you'll love!
What is Lahm Bi Ajeen?
This recipe is addictive once you try it. My mom makes the best authentic lahm bi ajeen, and this is her recipe. It's the best one I've ever had (I am not being biased here). In Iraq, we make lahm bi ajeen very often and serve it either as an appetizer for a big dinner, or as breakfast with a cup of tea.
You may also know this dish as "Lahmacun" which is the Turkish version. Iraqi food and Turkish food have so many similarities, so the meat mixture used in this recipe is quite similar to that of the Turkish one. Turkish Lahmacun, however, is made using paper thin dough, and tends to use mostly lamb instead of beef.
This recipe is one that I make whenever I have some ground beef hanging out in the fridge. I'm either using it to make this recipe or throwing it into Kofta and making Arayes, which are both great options for weeknight meals.
If I had a bit of time to make my dough from scratch, I always would. But you can also just make the meat mixture and spread it onto tortillas or pita bread for a quick version that still has all the flavour.
Lahm Bi Ajeen Ingredients
For the filling, you need:
- Lean ground beef. You can also do a mix of half beef and half lamb, which will result in a more fatty meat mixture. I stick to lean beef mainly to keep it lighter, but adding lamb is delicious!
- Spices: cinnamon, allspice, black pepper, salt, and curry powder. This is my moms mix and it really amps up the flavour!
- Parsley and Onions
- Tomato Paste
- Pomegranate Molasses. This can be skipped if you don't have it, but I strongly suggest you add it in for delicious sweet and tangy notes.
As for the dough, you need:
- Flour. I use all-purpose flour because it's always on hand and does the job.
- Instant Yeast and Sugar
- Nigella seeds. These are optional but they are a must if you love them!
- Vegetable oil or olive oil
- Yogurt. If you want to make the dough dairy free, feel free to skip this. Yogurt helps make the dough softer.
How to make Lahm Bi Ajeen / Sfiha
Although it can seem intimidating, it's actually quite easy to make. You simply make the dough and allow it to rise, and work on the meat mixture in the meantime. I have a really easy method for the dough too!
How to Make the Dough
I use a stand mixer to make the dough which makes it so much easier, but you can also do it by hand. I prefer a moist dough for Lahm Bi Ajeen as it will yield a soft texture, and I add nigella seeds for a great flavour.
The key with making the dough is to gradually add the water and test it using your fingers. If it's too moist, you can add more flour, a few tablespoons at a time, and if it's too dry, simply add a bit more water until you reach the right texture.
The dough is ready when it feels moist but not too sticky, and starts to come away from the bowl.
TIP: To cut down the time for the dough to rise, fill a mug with water and heat it in the microwave until it starts to steam. Turn the microwave off, keep the mug inside, and place your dough (covered) inside and close the door. This will create a moist environment and allow the dough to rise faster.
How to Make the Meat Mixture
For the mixture, you can use ground beef or lamb, and I would avoid extra lean meat since you want some fat in there. Finely dice the onions and parsley, and add all the spices, tomato paste, tomato sauce and pomegranate molasses. Mix it up using your hand.
You can also use a food processor to chop the onions and parsley. If doing this, make sure you squeeze the onions and parsley mixture before adding it to the beef to ensure it doesn't add too much liquid.
The meat mixture can be used as soon as it is ready and doesn't need to rest. However, you can also make the mixture the day before and keep it in the fridge for 1-2 days.
Assembling and Baking the Lahm Bi Ajeen
Roll out the dough. Here you have a few options. You can make small circles which are best if you're serving it as an appetizer. Or you can make medium sized circular pieces, served as a meal, which is often the way I make it. There's no rule around the size, so use the size that works for you.
Finally, you can also speed up the process a lot more by simply rolling out the dough to fit your pan and then cut the pieces into squares once they're baked. This is a "quicker" way and cuts down the prep time greatly.
TIP: When spreading the meat mixture on the dough, use your fingertips to poke the meat and make little indents all over. This helps ensure the meat sticks to the dough and doesn't peel off when baking. Also, avoid using a meat layer that is too thick.
To bake, make sure your oven is pre-heated to 450F. Using a high oven temperature will ensure a crispy bottom. You can bake on a regular floured sheet pan, or on a pizza stone. Using a pizza stone yields the best results, but if you don't have one, that's okay!
Baking the Lahm Bi Ajeen is a fast process. Place it on the bottom rack and bake the bottom of the dough for 5-7 minutes until lightly golden (I check it using a spatula), then move the tray to the top rack and broil for 3-4 minutes until the meat is fully cooked.
When broiling, keep a close eye on it as the edges to the Lahm Bi Ajeen can easily burn, and don't place the rack too close to the broiler.
TIP: Make sure the baked lahm bi ajeen are immediately covered using a towel, until they cool down. Otherwise, they will dry out.
What to do with leftover dough
You can also freeze the dough in an airtight freezer bag for 4-5 months. When ready to use, thaw it in the fridge overnight, then place it on the counter to get to room temperature before using.
What to do with leftover filling
My favourite thing to do with leftover lahm bi ajeen filling is to cook it in a skillet, and then crack 3-4 eggs on top, sort of like a shakshuka. It is so delicious this way!
You can also use the filling to spread on ready-made tortillas, pita bread, or naan and make a weeknight friendly version of lahm bi ajeen.
The filling will stay in the fridge for 3-4 days!
Watch me make it:
How to store and freeze Lahm Bi Ajeen / Sfiha
Lahm bi Ajeen is very freezer friendly. You can make a big batch and freeze to eat throughout the month, or in preparation for a big dinner party. Follow these important storage instructions for the best results!
How to store Lahm bi Ajeen
While in the process of baking, make sure that as soon as they come out of the oven and cool down for 5 mins, they are placed in a large tray and covered with a towel. The heat within will keep them moist and will ensure they stay soft. Leaving them uncovered will dry out the dough.
Once you're finished baking, remove a certain amount that you'll be eating over the next 3-4 days and place in an airtight container, storing it in the fridge.
The rest of the Lahm Bi Ajeen can be stored in the freezer. Place the lahm bi ajeen pieces in a freezer bag, ensure that you add a layer of parchment paper between each piece to avoid them sticking to each other.
Tightly seal the bag and freeze them. They can stay in the freezer for 5-6 months.
How to re-heat them from frozen
The best way to re-heat frozen lahm bi ajeen is to remove it from the freezer and place it on a baking tray. Make sure you don't overlap them so they don't stick to each other. Place them in the oven and heat them slowly at 350F for 10-15 minutes and they'll be good as new.
I do not recommend re-heating using a microwave, as it will make the dough quote chewy. You can also leave them at room temperature for several hours until fully thawed and enjoy them.
How to serve Lahm Bi Ajeen / Sfiha
Lahm Bi Ajeen is usually served as an appetizer for large dinner parties, and shaped into small circles for this purpose. You can also serve it as a meal with lemon wedges on the side and with a bowl of middle eastern lentil soup. Squeeze a bit of lemon on top and enjoy. You can also eat it for breakfast with a cup of tea. It's such a versatile dish!
For more Middle Eastern recipes, check out:
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Lahm Bi Ajeen / Sfiha (Middle Eastern Flatbread)
For the Dough
- 6 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoons instant yeast
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 tablespoons nigella seeds optional
- ¼ cup vegetable or olive oil
- ½ cup yoghurt optional
- 2.5 cups water approximately - depends on your flour
For the Filling
- 1.5 lbs lean ground beef or a 50/50 mixture of beef and lamb
- 3 onions finely diced
- 1 small bunch parsley (approx. 2 cups packed) finely diced
- 200 ml tomato paste
- 200 ml tomato sauce
- 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses optional
- ½ tablespoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 2 teaspoons curry powder
- 1 tablespoon allspice powder
- ¼ tablespoon cinnamon powder
For the Dough
- Place the instant yeast in a bowl with 1 cup of warm water (from the 2.5 cups total) and allow to dissolve for a few minutes (make sure the water is not really hot).
- Using a stand mixer with a dough hook, start by placing the flour, sugar, nigella seeds and salt into the mixing bowl and mix on low for a few seconds to combine. You can also do this with your hand or a spoon.
- Add the oil to the dry ingredients and combine on medium speed, until the oil is fully incorporated, which should take a few seconds.
- Then add the water and yeast mixture and continue to mix on medium speed.
- Slowly and gradually add the yogurt plus the 1.5 remaining cups of water and continue to knead for at least 5 to 7 minutes.
- The dough is ready when it feels moist but not too sticky and starts to come away from the bowl. If it feels dry add a bit more water and if it's too moist add a bit of flour. A moist dough will yield a soft texture which is what you're looking for.
- Using oil, bring the dough together into a ball, cover with cling film and a tea towel and allow it to rise for at least an hour.
- Pro tip: To cut down the time for the dough to rise, fill a mug with water and heat it in the microwave until it starts to steam. Turn off the microwave, keep the mug inside and place your dough inside and close the door. This will create a moist environment and allow the dough to rise faster!
For the Filling
- Preheat your oven to 450F and start by finely dicing the onion and parsley. You can also do this in a food processor, but make sure you squeeze out any excess liquid.
- Then combine all the ingredients under "for the filing" together and mix very well by hand. To try it and adjust seasoning you can cook off a small piece and taste.
- Once mixture is well combined and the dough has risen, start by rolling out the dough either into medium sized circular shapes (as pictured) or for a faster option, roll to the size of a large rectangular sheet pan.
- Make sure you roll dough using a lightly floured surface and rolling pin to a really thin layer.
- Lightly flour the sheet pans and lay the dough on the pan carefully. You can also use a pizza stone and a pizza peel lined with parchment paper.
- Spoon the meat mixture on the dough and spread into a thin layer using your hands, ensuring you go all the way up to the edges, and ensuring the filing layer is not too thick.
- Place it in the oven at 450F on bake for approx. 7-10 mins on the bottom rack. Watch closely and check for when the bottom is cooked through, then transfer to top rack to broil for 5-7 minutes until the meat is fully cooked.
- Enjoy with a squeeze of lemon and a cup of tea!
- You can use a stand mixer with a dough hook or your hands to make the dough. The stand mixer speeds up the process.
- Once the Lahm Bi Ajeen are out of the oven, allow them to cool for a few minutes on a plate/tray, then ensure you cover them with a kitchen towel and a plastic bag so they stay soft (otherwise they will dry out and harden).
- For storing them in the freezer, place them in a freezer bag, with a layer of parchment paper between them to avoid sticking. Freeze up to 6 months.