Lahm Bi Ajeen, which literally translates to "meat on dough" is a classic Iraqi dish, also known as "Sfiha" in the Levant. Lahm Bi Ajeen or Sfiha is made with the perfect mixture of ground beef (or lamb), veggies and spices spread on soft dough, and baked to perfection. A middle Eastern classic that's enjoyed at all meals!
Why I love Lahm Bi Ajeen
What can I say - this recipe is addictive once you try it. It's my mom's, and 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 (and uses mostly lamb instead of beef).
If 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 was feeling fancy and had a bit of time to make my dough from scratch, it would be this recipe. But you can also just make the meat mixture and spread it onto tortillas or pita bread for a quick version - hits the spot too!
How to make Lahm Bi Ajeen / Sfiha
Although it can seem intimidating, it's actually quite easy to make. You simply make the meat mixture, then make the dough. I have a really easy method for the dough too! Here's how you do it:
- Prepare the dough. I use a stand mixer to make the dough which makes it so much easier. 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.
- Prepare the meat mixture. Here 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, just be sure to only pulse it a few times so it doesn't release too much liquid
- 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. 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 what I do make I make it for my family because it takes me a fraction of the time.
- Add the mixture on top. For this step, make sure you use your fingers and spread out the meat to a medium layer. Using your fingers helps the meat adhere to the dough well and you can also control the amount better versus using a spoon.
- Bake and broil. Baking the Lahm Bi Ajeen is a fast process. I usually 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.
Watch me make it:
How to store and freeze Lahm Bi Ajeen / Sfiha
This is also the type of food I can make a big batch of and freeze to eat throughout the month, or in preparation for a big dinner party. Whenever I end up staying late at work or don't manage to meal prep on the weekends - this Lahm Bi Ajeen saves my life!
How to store them
- 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. Do this by laying them in one layer on a tray lined with wax paper. Add more layers on top as long as there is wax paper between each layer. Cover the tray in a plastic bag (or airtight container if you have one). Freeze for 4-5 hours until they are fully frozen. If you are short on freezer space, you can then remove the frozen pieces and simply pop them into a bag (once they are frozen they will not stick to each other) and get rid of the tray.
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.
The microwave works too, but it will make the dough a bit chewier, so I don't recommend it. But hey, I've done it before when in a hurry (no judgement here).
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 on its own with lemon wedges on the side. 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
For the Dough
- 6 cups flour
- 2.5 tbsp sugar
- 3 tablespoons instant yeast
- 1 tablespoons salt
- 2 tablespoons nigella seeds optional
- ½ cup vegetable or olive oil
- ½ cup yoghurt
- 2-3 cups water approximately - depends on your flour
For the Filling
- 1.5 lbs lean ground beef
- 3 onions finely diced
- 1 small bunch parsley finely diced
- ½ can tomato paste approx. 200 ml
- ½ can tomato sauce approx. 200 ml
- 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
- ½ tablespoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon salt
- ½ tablespoon curry powder
- 1 tablespoon allspice powder
- ¼ tablespoon cinnamon powder
For the Dough
- 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.
- Meanwhile place the instant yeast in a bowl with 1 cup of warm water (from the 3 cups total) and allow to dissolve (make sure the water is not really hot).
- Add the oil to the dry ingredients and combine on medium speed, until the oil is fully incorporated, which should take a few minutes.
- Then add the water and yeast mixture and continue to mix on medium speed.
- Slowly and gradually add the yogurt plus the 2 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.
- 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.
- Make sure you roll dough using a lightly floured surface and rolling pin to a really thin layer.
- Lightly flour the pans and lay the dough on the pan carefully.
- 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. 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!