Homemade dough topped with spiced minced meat and baked to perfection. Yes, we're talking about the infamous sfiha meat pie, which is popular in Lebanon and all over the Arab region. In some Middle Eastern countries, the dish is also known as lahm bi ajeen which is derived from the Arabic words for meat (lahme) and dough (3ajeen).
Ajeen Dough Ingredients
- Warm water: The water's temperature is key because it activates the yeast to help the dough rise. When using active dry yeast, the ideal temperature of the water is between 110 ℉ to 115 ℉ (43 ℃- 46 ℃) when dissolving the yeast directly in water (as recommended in this recipe). If you don't have a thermometer, mix ⅓ part boiling water with ⅔ part room temperature water.
- Flour: Any dough's star ingredient. For this recipe, all-purpose flour is recommended. Unbleached flour and wheat flour are appropriate substitutes as well.
- Active dry yeast: This usually comes in small tins and has a granular texture. Instant dry yeast is different than active dry yeast in that it can be mixed directly into the dry ingredients without needing to be dissolved into the water first. If using instant dry yeast and adding it directly to the other dry ingredients, make sure to use water with a bit higher temperature between 120 ℉ and 130 ℉ (49 ℃ - 54 ℃).
- Olive oil: Adds a fragrant taste to the dough and is the preferred choice over butter or vegetable oil.
- Dry powdered milk: I add just a little bit to balance out the flavor. Regular milk is not an appropriate substitute. If you do not have dry powdered milk on hand, skip this ingredient.
- Sugar: It might sound weird but trust me this teeny bit of sugar makes a huge difference when it comes to taste. You can use white sugar, brown sugar, or cane sugar.
- Salt: A key ingredient that binds everything together.
Spiced Meat Mixture Ingredients
- Ground meat: You can use all ground beef, or all ground lamb, or an equal mixture of ground lamb and ground beef. Ground lamb has a higher fat content typically than ground beef, which gets absorbed by the dough.
- Tomatoes: They add an incredible acidic kick to this recipe.
- Onions: Prepare the onions by pulsing them with a little bit of salt. Alternatively, you can hand chop the onions finely.
- Pomegranate molasses: A Middle Eastern staple made of juiced pomegranates, this ingredient is the highlight of this dish.
- Seven spices: This is a very common mixture of ground spices used in Lebanese cuisine. Seven spices is a ground mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, fenugreek, allspice, pepper, and cloves.
- Cinnamon: You can a little more ground cinnamon.
- Salt: Because there's nothing like a well-seasoned piece of sfiha right?
You will also need:
- A rolling pin
- A good food processor
- A knife
- A chopping board
- 1 large or two medium sized baking trays
How To Make Lahm Bi Ajeen
Lahm bi ajeen, or sfiha, is comprised of a meat mixture and homemade dough.
Prepare the Ajeen Dough
In a bowl, combine half a cup of warm water, yeast, and sugar. Stir the mixture and let stand for a few minutes while preparing the other ingredients.
In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients: flour, dry milk, and salt. Form a well in the mixture. Pour the yeast, water, and sugar combination into the well. Knead with your hands, or alternatively, use a standing mixer.
As you knead the dough, slowly add the remaining half cup of warm water, kneading in between each little bit of water added. Keep kneading until you form a ball of dough. Pat the ball of dough with olive oil, cover it with a kitchen cloth, and let it rest for an hour.
Make the Spiced Meat Mixture
Using a food processor, pulse the onion and salt for a minute. Add the tomatoes, spices, pomegranate molasses, olive oil, and meat to the food processor. Pulse until all of the ingredients are combined.
Make The Minced Meat Pies
Heat the oven to 350 ℉ or 180 ℃. Split the dough into 10 round balls. Flour a surface and using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a thin circle. Transfer the dough to a greased oven baking dish or parchment paper.
Spread the meat mixture in a thin layer. Evenly space out the meat pies on the baking sheet.
Bake at 350 ℉ or 180 ℃ for about 35 minutes until the dough and meat topping is cooked through. Serve immediately.
Tips to Get the Best Dough
The dough is a vital part of this recipe, so here are a few tips that'll guarantee it'll turn out perfect every single time:
- Make sure to let the dough rest for a good amount of time (usually 2-3 hours).
- Before the dough is completely rested, knead it with your hands for a bit and let it rest some more.
- Cover the dough with a clean kitchen towel or cloth rather than cling film because that allows a little bit of air in.
- Let the dough rest in a slightly warm (not too hot) area of the kitchen.
Is Sfiha a Kind of Pizza?
This is a frequently asked question and the answer to it is both a yes and a no. This lahm bi ajeen recipe is often compared to pizza because of its shape and the fact that it's made up of oven-baked dough and toppings. However, it's quite different from the Italian favorite when it comes to the texture of its dough and the fact that it doesn't include a melted cheesy topping.
Variations You Can Make to the Meat Mixture
- We only used tomatoes and onions but you can certainly add more veggies. Green peppers, carrots, and even diced eggplants could work great with the recipe. Get creative with it and make it your own. If using other vegetables, make sure to mince the veggies finely and to choose vegetables low in water content (so the dough doesn't get too soggy while baking).
- You can add a few more spices to the meat mixture. A pinch of red chili flakes to add some heat or even maybe a dash of cumin to balance things out.
Perfect Pairings for This Dish
Sfiha goes amazingly well with some yogurt cucumber salad or a side of fattoush. In Lebanon, we like to drizzle it with some lemon juice and eat it alongside a bowl of chopped veggies. Some people like to pair this dish with homemade labneh. Others also serve it with a popular Arab yogurt drink called laban ayran.