Flat-Out Fantastic Lahmacun

Must we describe every topped flatbread in the world as some form of a pizza? It’s a helpful cultural touchstone that’s easily understood, but does a grave injustice to every minimally related dish. Lahmacun shares this overly simplified description, but make no mistake about it: We’re not in Italy anymore, Toto.

What Is Lahmacun?

Whether it’s technically Turkish or Armenian is still hotly debated. Regardless, Lahmacun comes from the Arabic words “lahm,” meaning meat, and “macun,” meaning paste. Alternative spellings are “lamejun,” “lahmajin” and “lahmajun,” just to be clear. Typically beef or lamb is ground or finely chopped with vegetables and herbs to create this iconic “meat paste” that gets spread onto very thinly rolled circles of dough. In this case, tempeh is our protein of choice, enhanced by the naturally umami flavors of Sugimoto shiitake powder.

Not All Shiitake Powder Is Created Equal

That’s why Sugimoto is the only brand I’d trust for the job. Theirs is made of pure, dried shiitake mushrooms and absolutely nothing else. Their unique drying process concentrates all the natural umami compounds to make the overall taste sensation even more concentrated, making it a potent flavor booster for all kinds of dishes. Adding shiitake powder ultimately creates a more satisfying and complex dish, plant-based or otherwise.

Furthermore, the presence of amino acids like glutamic acid in shiitake mushrooms can also contribute to their meaty flavor. These same amino acids are found in meat, which is why shiitake powder can be a great option for adding depth and richness to vegan recipes. Tempeh, which is made of fermented soy beans, may not sound like a natural substitute for ground meat, but some sort of kitchen alchemy occurs when this secret ingredient hits the pan.

Tips For Success

Don’t be daunted if this is your first try making lahmacun. It’s an incredibly simple recipe that can be mastered with little effort.

  • The meat paste topping and dough can both be made in advance. The topping can keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week, or frozen for up to 6 months. The dough can be kept in a lightly greased ziptop bag or covered bowl in the fridge for up to 5 days. That way, you can simply assemble and eat when hunger strikes.
  • To make this recipe easier, you can start with 1 pound of prepared pizza dough rather than making your own from scratch.
    • In a pinch, you can even use flour tortillas to skip the rolling step entirely, but reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees so they don’t burn.
  • When rolling out the dough, think “crackers” rather than “pizza.” The crusts need to be super thin, as thin as you can possibly make them, to get a perfectly crisp, crunchy bite all the way through. The exact size and shape isn’t as important as the thickness, which should be around 1/8th of an inch. You can use your fingers to pull and stretch it too.
  • I like to roll my dough out directly on an ungreased piece of parchment paper, flouring only the top of the dough. That way, it sticks to the sheet and not the rolling pin, helping it to keep its shape instead of immediately springing back.
  • Leftover, fully baked lahmacun can be frozen once cooled. To reheat, toss them back into a 400-degree oven for 5 – 8 minutes, until hot and crisp.

Leftover Topping Ideas

A little bit goes a long way for these super thin and crispy flatbreads! You may end up with more topping than you can spread over your dough, which is a great “problem” to have. There’s no end to the possible uses for such a versatile component.

  • Dumplings: Wrap up a spoonful in wonton wrappers and steam, saute, or fry your way to dumpling delight.
  • Pasta Sauce: Consider this the meat component of your favorite ragu. Add diced tomatoes and simmer until thick.
  • Tacos: Grab your tortillas and load them up with this meatless filling, pico de gallo, guacamole, shredded cabbage, and anything else you’d like at this instant fiesta.
  • Meatballs: Mix in seasoned breadcrumbs until the mixture holds together, then shape it into walnut-sized balls. Sear before adding to your favorite al dente pasta and sauce.
  • Stuffed Peppers: Slice off the tops of your bell peppers, fill with the seasoned meatless mixture, cover with foil, and bake at 400 degrees for 25 – 30 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with shredded vegan cheese, and bake for another 5 – 10 minutes, until melted and browned.

What makes lahmacun so special is its balance of flavors and textures. The thin, crispy bread provides a perfect contrast to the rich, savory meat topping, while the fresh parsley and tangy tomatoes add brightness and acidity to the dish. Fragrant spices give lahmacun a warm, aromatic quality that makes it both comforting and complex.

Lahmacun is often served as street food in Turkey, where it’s eaten folded up like a taco. Popular as an appetizer, snack, or entree, you can easy enjoy it straight out of the oven or with a variety of condiments, such as lemon wedges, pickled vegetables, or garlic sauce. Whatever you do, just don’t call it pizza. Lahmacun is a true culinary treasure as a wholly unique, distinctive dish that’s well worth the effort of making it right.

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New Old Fashioned

Drink Your Mushrooms?

Save your side eye for more questionable content; the idea of infusing mushrooms into drinks is nothing new. Add them to coffee or tea and call them nootropics, but at the end of the day, you’re staring down the same thing at the bottom of your glass. Though medicinal mushrooms are billed as a silent partner, contributing to your wellness cache without being outspoken about it, there’s no reason why bolder fungi can’t belly up to the bar.

Shiitake, The Original Flavor Enhancer

As we’ve discussed before, Sugimoto Shiitake are on a whole different level from the average spore. Rich with free glutamates that create an unmistakable savory flavor, it’s easy to leverage their inherent wealth of aroma and unique pungency to enhance any dish. The concept certainly doesn’t end when happy hour strikes.

When used properly, shiitake in any form elevates the subtle nuances in all the components that coalesce into a carefully curated, intentional eating or drinking experience. Like salt, it should never taste overtly salty (or mushroomy, in this case), but allow the other players to shine as their best, truest selves.

Why A Shiitake Cocktail Just Works

There’s real scientific evidence supporting the use of shiitake in mixology. To better understand why this pairing works, let’s break down the primary tasting notes:

  • Earthy
  • Woodsy
  • Oaky
  • Nutty
  • Leathery
  • Smoky

Remind you of anything else? Yes, whiskey is a match made in heaven for this umami infusion! That’s why my Umami Old Fashioned is a foolproof twist on the classic cocktail that will never let you down.

How To Make An Umami Old Fashioned

The classic old fashioned is one of the easiest cocktails you could pour. Just four ingredients stand between you and that first bold, bracing sip: whiskey, sugar, bitters, and orange peel. To add some extra umami into the equation, we need to factor in two more ingredients: dried shiitake and time.

  1. Begin by crumbling 1 large koshin shiitake cap into 2 ounces of bitters. Add 2 ounces of water, since the mushrooms will absorb some of that as they rehydrate. Cover and let sit for 24 hours in a dark, cool place. Strain out the shiitake pieces (which are brilliant in risottos or stews) and store the umami bitters in a bottle with a dropper.
  2. To make the cocktail itself, combine simple syrup and a few drops of umami bitters in a glass with 1 – 2 ice cubes. Simple syrup dissolves more easily than granulated sugar, and can be made with a simple ratio of 1 part sugar to 2 parts water. Simmer and then let cool in advance, storing it in a glass bottle at room temperature until ready to use.
  3. Add the whiskey and stir for about 30 seconds to combine. Pour into a clean glass with fresh ice. Twist a piece of orange peel over the top to release the essential oils before placing it in the glass.
  4. Completely optional, but if desired, garnish with a luxardo cherry; literally the cherry on top.

Better Bitters

Since a little bit goes a long way when we’re talking about bitters, even this small amount should last a good while. Don’t reserve your supply only for cocktails; it’s a rich flavoring agent for a wide range of cooking applications too. Consider incorporating it into:

  • Vinaigrette and other dressings
  • Pickles and preserves
  • Marinades
  • Soups and stews

Once you start sipping, you’ll never want to stock the bar without this secret ingredient again. Cheers, to a new fashioned Old Fashioned that can keep up with the times.

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A Happy Black Day

February 14th is widely recognized as Valentine’s Day, a time for love of all sorts to flourish. In response, March 14th is White Day, celebrated by some Asian cultures as an opportunity to give back to those who initiated the romantic gestured, traditionally split along gendered lines. This binary reciprocation is lost on me, but what I can appreciate is the following month, April 14th, that brings us Black Day.

What Is Black Day?

Black Day (블랙데이) is found only in South Korea, observed by single people that missed out on the previous two love fests. The name is a cheeky reference to those with loveless black hearts and their loneliness, as if the world’s population of unattached people are all deeply depressed by remaining independent. Rejecting this theory, I much prefer the implications it has for the traditional celebratory food: Black noodles.

What Are Black Noodles?

Jjajangmyeon (짜장면), thick wheat noodles with an inky black sauce made from fermented bean paste. Full of vegetables and either meat or seafood, it should go without saying that my rendition would automatically be inauthentic, but delicious as a wholly separate dish inspired by this tradition.

What Makes My Take on Jjajangmyeon Special

Beyond being plant-based, there are a few unique twists that make my recipe a unique spin on the Korean classic.

  • Food-grade charcoal creates that perfect pitch-black tint.
  • Fermented black garlic adds an extra layer of umami funk.
  • No added sugar prevents the sauce from the common pitfall of becoming too sweet.
  • Extra-chunky cuts on an abundance of vegetables makes for a much more satisfying, hearty meal.

What Are The Best Noodles for Jjajangmyeon?

Fresh wheat noodles are the best choice, but those can be tough to find outside of large Asian markets.

  • Dried lo mein are my top choice, with their squared edges and toothsome yet slippery texture.
  • Ramen noodles work as well for a springier bite.
  • Thick spaghetti can work in a pinch, though they’re my least favorite option, personally.

You don’t have to be single to appreciate a hot bowlful of these black noodles, and you certainly shouldn’t feel sad about it either way. As a prime opportunity to indulge in this savory comfort food, Black Day is always a bright spot on my calendar.

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Stick with Kati Rolls

Kati rolls are a special sort of food that exists beyond spoken language. It needs no translation, even if this is the first time you’ve heard such a word. One glance and all the mysteries are revealed. The kati roll is fluent in delicious, which is the most compelling form of communication on everyone’s lips.

What are kati rolls?

Soft flatbread, lightly crisped on the outside, wraps around an aromatic and highly spiced filling; the epitome of indispensable street food. Kati rolls are strikingly similar to fajitas in construction or open-ended burritos when finished. Originally, skewer-roasted kebabs were at the heart of it all, beginning life not unlike our modern day hot dog. Thus, the name comes from the Bengali word kathi, which means “stick,” in reference to the bamboo sticks used for cooking the protein. The bread is merely the vehicle, but simultaneously an essential part of the whole build.

The most “complicated” part of making kathi rolls to preparing the chapati (AKA roti.) I say this in quotes because it’s an incredibly simple flatbread made from minimal, common pantry staples that’s well within everyone’s grasp.

Even if you struggle with bread baking, this is a great way to ease into the art, since there’s no yeast involved and you truly can’t over-knead it. Gently charred by pan-frying on the stove top , you don’t need to preheat your oven, either. The biggest struggle can be carving out the time on a busy weeknight, to which I say: Don’t sweat the details.

Traditionally, the flatbread of choice for making kati rolls has been paratha. Infused with buttery, flaky layers throughout, that particular unleavened dough does take a bit more finesse. I’d rather save such intensive labor and overall decadence for a stand-alone snack, ideally with a side of chutney or curry sauce for dipping.

What are good alternatives to homemade chapati?

While all flatbread are not created equal, you can absolutely make mouthwatering kathi rolls using a wide range of ready-made solutions with great success. For best results, brush them with oil and lightly griddle them on both sides before rolling to make them more flexible. A few options include:

It’s what’s on the inside that counts

Beef, lamb, and goat kebabs no longer need apply for this starring role. In fact, the most popular fillings are now largely vegetarian. Typically focused on cubes of fresh paneer that are masala-marinated and tossed with sauteed peppers, it’s a simple, adaptable combination that never gets old. Step up that umami quotient with Sugimoto shiitake for an even better experience.

Koshin shiitake mushrooms are perfectly suited for this application, bearing wide, long caps that are ideal for slicing into meaty strips. Instantly boost the overall flavor profile while incorporating a more satisfying, toothsome bite with that one effortless addition.

Are kati rolls healthy?

Keeping it vegan, cheese is out and tofu is in. Swapping the two lowers the fat, increases the protein, and removes cholesterol entirely. Factor in those high-fiber veggies and you’ve got a real superfood snack on hand!

Kati rolls are the ultimate meal prep hack

Designed to be eaten on the go, kati rolls are ideal for make-ahead meals, packed lunches, and traveling snacks. After assembling the rolls, wrap them individually in foil and freeze for up to 6 months. Whenever you’re ready to eat, either simply let them thaw out and enjoy at room temperature, or stick them in a toaster over or air fryer for a few minutes until warm and crispy. Keep chutney or hot sauce separate to apply as desired.

You don’t even need a recipe to make a kati roll. It could be made completely from leftovers, restaurant takeout, or prepared foods from the grocery store. Kati rolls are whatever you want them to be, whether they’re made 100% from scratch or with zero cooking involved. The only way you can go wrong is if you don’t start rolling in the first place.

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On the Lamb

In English, Rogan Josh sounds like it could be a proper legal name. It’s fitting for a dish with such distinct character and personality. They’re the person that everyone talks about candidly, in any company, with open admiration. Have you met my friend here, Rogan Josh, before? If you haven’t, I’d love to formally introduce you.

What is Rogan Josh/Roghan Ghosht?

Known today as a staple of Kashmiri Indian cuisine, the dish originated in Persia. The words themselves can be translated to “butter” and “stew,” although that strikes me as a curious way of burying the lede. Sure, ghee is applied generously for tempering the spices and sauteing the vegetables, but it’s far from the main character of this story. Meat is at the heart of this highly aromatic stew, typically in the form of lamb (mutton) or goat. Braised in a crimson red bath of chilies, low and slow, sometimes for hours before serving, I wonder if the “butter” here refers instead to how it becomes so tender that it practically melts in your mouth?

Plant-based meat has the clear advantage here. Seitan, AKA wheat meat, can cook in a fraction of the time while soaking in that intensely spicy broth like a high-protein sponge. Working in concert with equal parts Sugimoto Shiitake mushrooms, you get the hearty umami flavor and chewy caps for a perfect hearty bite. Donko shiitake have the ideal texture for this kind of application, both blending in seamlessly enhance to unique the rich palate of spices and standing out as the drumbeat moving the parade forward. Even the water used to soak and rehydrate the mushrooms gets put to good use, maximizing every drop of savory potential.

What Can Be Used Instead of Seitan?

If gluten is a concern, fear not. There are plenty of other plant-based proteins that would be excellent alternatives, such as:

  • Soy curls or chunks
  • Chopped tempeh
  • Cubed extra- or super-firm tofu
  • Vegan beef chunks or strips
  • Cooked chickpeas

Typically, the creamy component in this curry comes from plain yogurt, but I wanted something that would further bolster the lamb-like impact here. A big part of what makes game meat so distinctive is a unique grassy flavor, since they’re free to graze on wild grasses, of course. While that’s usually a negative aspect that cooks try to downplay, I’m bringing it back in to imitate that tasting experience. Hemp seeds have a similar earthy aspect, like a fresh bale of hay, which works in our favor this time around. Blended to a smooth consistency alongside tart, unsweetened yogurt, we get the best of all worlds.

What Does Rogan Josh Taste Like?

It’s hard to accurately describe the full volume flavor of the finished tomato curry sauce, but it’s one you’ll never forget. For the heat-seekers and hot sauce fanatics, this song is going out to you. Tune is melodious, haunting at first, like something familiar but long forgotten. Slowly the intensity grows, rising to a crescendo until you’re on the dance floor, electrified by the sensation. In other words, keep a tall glass of non-dairy milk nearby to douse the flames, or consider scaling back on the kashmiri chili powder in the first place.

What Can You Serve with Rogan Josh?

It would be a crime to let any of that luscious sauce go to waste. While it’s a complete dish that’s fully capable of standing alone on the dinner table, it’s even better with a side to soak up every last drop. My favorite options include:

To combat the fiery heat, some refreshing contrasting flavors help, such as:

  • Cucumber salad
  • Raita or plain, unsweetened yogurt
  • Mango lassi

Despite starting with melted coconut milk instead of clarified dairy, there’s no denying the downright decadent and impossibly buttery results. Simply having a well-stocked spice rack is more than half the battle in all good cooking. Knowing how and when to apply the umami power of shiitake mushrooms takes care of the rest.

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Love Triangles

Samosa will always have a place close to my heart. As a baby vegan, before I knew how to cook anything more complicated than plain pasta, frozen foods were my saving grace. One of my favorites was a frozen samosa wrap, an American-Indian mashup of a beloved potato pastry. Gently spiced, golden mashed potatoes gleamed from within a whole wheat tortilla, dotted with tender green peas for an ideal toothsome bite. They could be eaten toasted, microwaved, or simply thawed, which suited my haphazard meal planning perfectly. Though not the most authentic introduction, it opened my eyes to the rich world of flavors unlocked by Indian cuisine.

From that time on, samosas were always my safe food when eating out. When friends or family wanted their tikka masala or tandori, I knew I could count on the humble spud to fill buttery fried pastries, and in turn, my stomach. Little did I know that the original samosas, introduced to the Indian subcontinent around the 13th century by traders from Central Asia, had nothing to do with the starchy staple. In fact, the original samosa was stuffed primarily with sauteed onions, ground meat, peas, spices, and herbs. Sometimes pistachios, almonds, or chickpeas might enter the picture as a nod to their middle eastern inspiration, but there was not a single potato to be found.

Wondering what I might have been missing all those years, I was curious to get a taste of this protein-packed variant. It would be easy enough to take a traditional recipe and swap in a hyper-realistic vegan beef substitute, but I prefer to start from scratch. Naturally, I’m building the flavor foundation with Sugimoto shiitake, minced finely to approximate the rich, savory flavor and chewy texture of minced meat. Crumbled tempeh carries that flavor with an equally umami, fermented base.

Building those layers of nuanced, harmonious, and craveable flavors starts with tempering spices according to Indian tradition, but certainly doesn’t end there. Japanese ingredients like soy sauce and shiitake create a truly irresistible taste sensation. Folded into flaky pastry triangles, there’s no better snack, starter, or entree around.

How can you make quick and easy samosa?

If you’re daunted by pastry dough, don’t worry. There are plenty of quick-fix solutions for that outer wrapping, such as:

  • Phyllo dough
  • Puff pastry
  • Pie dough
  • Spring roll wrappers
  • Burrito-sized flour tortillas

Alternately, you don’t need to create a crispy outer layer to contain all that meaty goodness in the first place. Other uses for the filling sans pastry are:

  • Bun samosa (sandwiched between fluffy hamburger or slider buns)
  • Pizza topping
  • Chip dip
  • Bolognese sauce

Want to make a healthier samosa?

Though they’re traditionally deep-fried, I like to pan-fry or shallow fry mine. You can easily cut down on the added oil and fat even further.

  • Air fry at 370 degrees for 15 minutes, flipping after 10 minutes, until crispy and browned on both sides.
  • Bake in a conventional oven preheated to 400 degrees for 20 – 30 minutes, flipping halfway through, until golden brown.

How can you serve samosa?

Like any properly constructed hand pie, samosa are designed to be eaten out of hand. Though brilliantly flavorful as is, it never hurts to add a simple dipping sauce, especially as a cooling temperature contrast to the hot pastry. My favorite options include:

If you’d like to create a well-rounded plated meal with samosa as the centerpiece, that’s a snap, too! Just add one or more sides:

  • Leafy green salad
  • Chopped cucumbers and tomatoes
  • Rasam (spicy tomato soup)
  • Lentil dal
  • Basmati rice

While the younger me might be horrified at the distinct lack of potato content, the older and wiser me knows better. Amplified by the natural umami of Sugimoto shiitake mushrooms, this is my new go-to comfort food. Being homemade gives it the edge over store-bought frozen options, no doubt, but the concept itself transcends such a simplistic view. Once you taste bite through that flaky, crisp pastry and tear into that decadently moist, meaty beefless filling, sparkling with a vibrant palate of bright spices, you’ll understand why it’s the staple food that changed Indian cuisine as we know it today.

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