When I was seven my family went on vacation to Cairo before going to see relatives in Pakistan. I guess my parents wanted to enrich our childhood by taking us to see some of the wonders of the world – the pyramids. Being seven, I didn’t appreciate or understand the greatness of what I was seeing. I don’t remember much about this trip, but I do remember some highlights. I’m sure my sister, who was four at the time and I were probably complaining about the heat and continually asking when we would see Mickey Mouse. My parents were probably kicking themselves for taking their two little brats see these ancient landmarks.
My dad is infamous for telling us stories from our childhood. Stories we usually would not like every random stranger to know. Regardless, my dad is always ready to share that he had to carry my crying sister on his back inside the Great Pyramid at Giza and how I complained that the pyramid had a weird smell to it. As you can see, my sister and I really savored our experience there. But I do remember bits and pieces of this trip. We went to the Egyptian Museum, I relished the thought of telling my classmates that I had seen the mummy of King Tut. We had a guide too, who helped us weave our way through souks and also showed us the famous Tahrir square. I also recall that we stayed at the Shepheard Hotel, a hotel that my father told me that my grandfather had stayed at during a visit to Cairo. In that hotel my sister and I feasted on mango ice cream and salade Niçoise. Out of all the choices of food we had, these two were on our daily wish lists. At the Shepheard hotel, I recall watching an Egyptian marriage procession in amazement. I heard ululation for the first time, I did not know whether these high-pitched voices indicated happiness or sadness, whatever the case, I stood there in awe.
Amongst all of these memories, my father always highlights one story in particular. Looking back, we laugh about the incident, but at the time I still remember my childhood panic. It was nighttime and after a long day of sightseeing we were back at the hotel. My sister and I were hungry and requested what we called “Egyptian Pizza,” which was available on the street close to the hotel. My parents decided to get us some of this Egyptian pizza while they explicitly told my sister and I that they would be back in 5 minutes and we should stay in the room.
A few minutes after they left, I panicked. I told my sister I was going to look for them. I went down to the lobby in my nightie and untied Keds sneakers. Because it doesn’t matter if you’re wearing your Rainbow Brite nightie as long as you’ve got sneakers on – the logic of a child. Anyway, I hustled around the lobby looking for my parents. I couldn’t find them so I went back up to the room. My sister was gone. Apparently, she had also panicked. I went back down and saw her crying and sitting with an Egyptian man. He asked us where our parents were and my sister said they left us. He looked puzzled. I at seven was slightly more mature and said they were coming back and went to get us pizza. I don’t remember much else except that within a few minutes my parents arrived and saw us in the lobby with the man and my sister full of tears. They must have realized that they shouldn’t have left us alone. This is a story that is repeated practically every time I go to see my parents.
All that commotion was for this flatbread. I think you can find this in Levant cuisine as well as Turkish cuisine known as Lahmajoun and Lahmacun. I suspect this Egyptian version might have been Armenian because of the large Armenian population in Egypt. I recreated it here, with a different crust. I love adding flax and chia seeds to my dough. They had a lovely nuttiness and texture as well. The spicy and smokey ground meat is delicious and the bell peppers minced in shine through. I made this and was reminded of that trip to Cairo. I guess my parents did the right thing by taking us to Egypt. If anything, I have this story to tell.
Spicy Beef Flatbreads
for the whole-wheat, flax, chia dough:
1 1/4 teaspoon dry active yeast (or half a sachet)
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
3/4 whole-wheat four
1/4 cup ground flax seeds
2 tablespoons ground chia seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
for the beef:
1/2 lb ground beef (you can also mix ground beef and ground lamb, or just use lamb)
1/2 an onion, chopped
5-6 mini bell peppers, red, orange, yellow, or 1 large bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 green chili, chopped (seeds removed, if you like)
1/2 cup chopped parsley, mint, and cilantro
2 scallions, chopped
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon, red chili flakes, use less for less spicy
1 teaspoon ground cumin
kosher salt, to taste
fresh parsley, mint, labneh, olive oil, olives, and fresh lemon wedges, for serving
First, make the dough by combining the yeast, sugar, and water in the bowl of an electric mixer. Let the yeast bloom for 10 minutes. Next, add in the olive oil, champagne vinegar, and salt. Combine the dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Attach the dough hook to the mixer and put the bowl on the mixer and turn it to low-speed. Gradually add the dry ingredients into the bowl, once the dry ingredients are all in the bowl, turn the speed to medium and let the dough knead for 2-3 minutes. If you need extra water or flour, add it tablespoon at a time. It should be a smooth dough. Once kneaded, drizzle some olive oil over top so that it doesn’t form a skin and leave the dough to rise in a warm place for 1-2 hours.
Once the dough has risen punch it down and knead slightly and put it back in the bowl for the second rising, about 30 minutes. Once the dough has risen again knead it for a few minutes and separate it into four balls.
Next, in a food processor, add in the onions, garlic, peppers, green chili pepper, and herbs. Pulse a few times until finely chopped. Next, squeeze out the excess water from the vegetable mixture in a kitchen towel or strong paper towel. In bowl, combine the vegetable mixture with the ground meat and spices. Mix it together with your hands. Set aside
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Next, roll out the dough to 8-9 inch diameter circles, like individual sized pizzas. dust with flour to prevent the dough from sticking. Drizzle the dough circles with olive oil. Place the dough on a flat baking tray and then spread the meat mixture over the dough evenly and drizzle with olive oil again. Bake for 10-15 minutes until the dough is golden brown. Serve with fresh parsley, mint, labneh, olive oil, olives, and fresh lemon wedges.