Why Hello There, and welcome to Kitchen Catastrophes! I’m Jon O’Guin, and let me make something clear: I understand if that title worries you. “Lamb pizza” is something I haven’t encountered in my decades of culinary experimentation. “Spiced” is just vague enough to be suspect, so there’s no help to be found there. The entire phrase sits uncomfortably in the mind, and on the tongue, for some reason. But that’s part of our mission here: we get uncomfortable to help you take those first steps. So let’s totter forward into the great unknown together.
Now, as is not often the case with this sort of thing, I had a plan going into this Catastrophe: This is, after all, a Pizza. Sure, it’s a weird pizza, but pizza is a format we can all understand, it’s just a matter of convincing you that the toppings fit. And I had the plan to relate it to a bit of a hobby of mine: foreign films, specifically Chinese ones.
Smoking Soldier Painted Dancer Single Mom was a surprise smash at the Golden Sun Awards
I was going to talk about how sure, there are plenty of differences between Chinese movies and American ones, but they’re still recognizable. I was going to use the example of the Monkey King 2, a chinese Film I bought for $3 in a Wal-mart Bargain Bin, a location as American as you can be without touching a national monument. You may note that I wrote all of those decisions in the past tense, implying that I have changed my mind. This is because, as IS often the case with this sort of thing, shit went wrong.
See, Memorial Day weekend was a rather busy one in my household, with trips all up and down the Kitsap peninsula, my father having a sudden illness, and so on. As such, and given the fact that sorting out my father’s illness wasn’t done until Thursday, I looked at this weekend and said “Hmm. Nothing scheduled to happen, just had a real busy week and previous weekend...This feels like a ‘take a breather’ weekend. I’ll have plenty of time to watch a couple movies.” (we’ll get to that.) My mother, on the other hand, looked at the exact same set of circumstances, and said “Looks like we should start a 12 hour Gardening Project!”
For context, this was all grass when we started.
So by the end of the whole thing, I had only watched 2 hours of movie. “Surely that’s enough, right Jon?” Firstly, don’t call me- oh, you actually used my name. Damn it, I love that joke. Anyhow, no. 2 hours is not, with any certainty, enough to watch a Chinese film. One of my favorite Chinese films, Red Cliff, is FOUR HOURS AND FIFTY MINUTES long. It was released as two 2+ hour halves. Because that’s actually a rather prominent difference between American and Chinese cinema: time. Chinese movies like to take their time, much like Sting does in the bedroom. I have NEVER seen a Chinese film with a runtime appreciably under 2 hours. (Monkey King 2 is exactly 120 minutes, while Monkey King 1 is 119.)
And that Parenthetical at the end gave away the problem. See, I’m something of a completionist: when I do things, I want them to be DONE. So I said “Well, why watch Monkey King 2 if you’re not going to watch Monkey King 1?” This was probably a mistake, for a few reasons.
Firstly, to understand the problem, you have to understand the context: Sun Wukong is a major character in Journey into the West, arguably the more important piece of Chinese literature. And yes, that sentence does just end there. Journey into the West is to Chinese literature what THE BIBLE is to Western. Sun Wukong is the primary focus for the first part of the book, and then becomes a sidekick for the rest of it. As such, in terms of pure narrative, what I said is roughly equivalent to “Well, if I’m going to watch Passion of the Christ, I should probably watch The Ten Commandments first, since everyone keeps talking about this Moses chap.”
"Who was that Moses guy?"
"No one important. Shut up."
So instead of watching a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes film about a Buddhist monk having adventures with his 3 demon buddies, instead, I watched a 30% film about an exuberant idiot being played for a fool in an ongoing war between Gods and Demons. A film that, to be quite frank, dragged a fair bit in the first half, and remember, I willingly watched a FIVE HOUR MOVIE multiple times. Also, because this version didn’t make it to America (we actually made a different version of the same movie just before Monkey King 2 was released for American audiences), I had to rely on an Indian one, whose English subtitles were…not fully refined. I’d say probably 2/3 of them had some form of tense/agreement errors. (“Take care yourself” instead of “Take care of yourself”. “Why doesn’t you think?” “He’s very quickly”, and so on.)
So, you’ll be happy to hear that making Israeli Pizza went MUCH better than trying to watch Chinese movies.
Mary had a Little Lamb…
Some people may find the idea of Israeli pizza quite strange. This is because we don’t think about some of the things we encounter very critically. If I described to you a dish with white, garlic based sauce, tomatoes and veggies, and meatballs on a circular piece of bread, “pizza” is likely the first thing that comes to mind. But then, I fold the bread in half, and suddenly everyone’s surprised we bought gyros.
What I’m getting at is that Flatbreads have been a prominent part of Middle Eastern cuisine for centuries, often with a variety of toppings. And while, as I brought up in my post about Irish food, America doesn’t eat Lamb (our per capita annual consumption is…1 pound), The Middle East definitely does. As such, when I recently picked up a copy of Food and Wine Magazine, with a Lamb pizza on the cover, I knew I was going to have to make a push for some pizza.
The process is complex, but not complicated. See, every part of this is handmade: you make the dough, the sauce, the toppings, and the toppings FOR the toppings. Luckily, every step is itself pretty easy. The dough is the recipe given to my family by my brother’s Assistant Track Coach, or whatever that shadowy figure we met a crossroad claimed to be. It’s a standard pizza dough recipe, most notable for having a miniscule rise time: from start to finish, the process takes about 25 minutes.
A welcome opportunity to MAKE the doughball, instead of just BEING the doughball.
The sauce takes about 40 minutes, but is still rather simple: sauté some aromatics, add tomatoes, simmer down a bit, add more aromatics. Despite this simplicity, the sauce is where we really start to see divergence in how we approach this. The aromatics in the sauce are garlic and jalapeño, an ingredient that doesn’t show up on many American pizzas. And while Basil does eventually enter the sauce, it doesn’t stay there: rather, you’re supposed to toss whole sprigs of it in, simmer for ten minutes, and then pull them out and dispose of them.
Yes, this certainly looks like something you throw away.
You’re also supposed to strain the sauce to remove solids, a process my family rounding ignored, because, well, we didn’t want to. We figured the potential risk of biting into jalapeño chunks was worse the saved 4 minutes of effort.
The meat for the pizza is just ground lamb with sautéed onion and baharat spices, a mix I picked up back around Christmas, when I got the Ras al Hanout for the other Lamb. The exact mix is a little hard to pinpoint, because…well… so the Arabic word for “spice” is bahar…and –at is a plural noun designation. So, Baharat is literally just “Spices”. It’s a little like in English we have “seasoning salt” mixes, which are just mixed salt and SEASONINGS. Anyway, the default is typically something like cumin, Black pepper, paprika, cassia (a cinnamon relative) and so on. A general mix of all the ‘warm’ spices. You toss it on the lamb and onion, mix it up, and boom, you got the meat.
Like an avant-garde attempt at Meat-Loaf
Lastly, you top the whole thing with diced tomato mixed with lemon and mint, to offset the rich heat of the rest of the pizza. The astute of you will have noticed something, and it’s potentially the most jarring facet of the spiced lamb pizza: there’s no cheese. This may not shock a flat-bread fanatic, or voracious vegan, but to the average American, a pizza without cheese is incomplete. So right after we cooked our first pizza, we made another one with torn fresh mozzarella over it.
The overall consensus for the pizza: it was fine. A little wet in the middle (maybe some of the sauce solids were sweating liquid) but overall acceptable. If anything, it was rather unremarkable. The cheese made it more familiar, but not necessarily much better. Still, the sauce was good enough that we used it for a couple other home-made pizzas over the week, so overall, it was a success. Unlike that damn Monkey Movie.
Listen, I’m surprisingly tired, and we’re already running late, so let’s pretend I told you to like us on Facebook and to please please pretty please support us on Patreon, and we’ll wrap this up and go home.
NEXT TIME: HONESTLY, I HAVE NO IDEA. LIKE I SAID, I HAVEN’T HAD MUCH TIME TO PLAN THINGS. PROBABLYSOMETHING TO DO WITH HAMBURGERS OR SOMETHING.
Spiced Lamb Pizza
2 ½ c warm water
1 tbsp yeast
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt
6-7 c flour
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 minced garlic cloves
2 tbsps finely chopped jalapeño
1 can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes
1 ½ tsp sugar
4 4-inch sprigs basil
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
1 ½ cup finely chopped Onion
1 tbsp baharat spice mix
2 tsp finely chopped garlic
1 lb ground lamb
Salt and pepper
6 medium tomatoes diced ¼ of an inch, or a can of diced tomatoes.
¼ cup finely chopped mint
1 tsp finely chopped garlic
1 tbsp lemon juice
1. Make the dough: put the first 4 ingredients into a stand mixer. If you don’t have one, a pretty big bowl. Mix together, adding 2-3 cups of flour , until a thick batter. Then, using a dough hook (stand mixer) add additional flour until the dough balls up and pulls away from the walls. If no stand mixer, just knead the dough by hand while adding the flour. Remove from the bowl, and knead 4-5 minutes until smooth and elastic. Form into 4 balls on parchment paper, spray with Pam, and let sit 10-15 minutes.
2. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees, with a pizza stone inside. You want at least 30 minutes of heating. Meanwhile, make the sauce: Heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add garlic and jalapeño, cook 2-3 minutes, stirring once or twice. Add the tomatoes, sugar, and a ½ cip pf water. Simmer 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. After 25 minutes, strain if you want to, then add basil and simmer 10 minutes. Discard basil, season with salt and pepper.
3. Make the lamb: In a big skillet, heat the olive oil on medium. Add the onion and cook 8 to 10 minutes until lightly browned. Add baharat and garlic, cook 2 minutes. Add onion, and brown over 6 minutes. Move to paper towels, season with salt and pepper.
4. Mix the mint topping together, and form the pizzas: roll out the dough, or stretch it by hand, to roughly a 8 inch circle or 10 inch oval. Spread pizza with 2-4 tbsp sauce, top with 2/3rd to 1 cup lamb, and slide onto stone. Cook 6-7 minutes, remove, and top with mint topping. Serve hot.