It was my first year in Pakistan after getting married, and I was expecting our first child. It was the month of Ramadan, and the doctor had imposed a strict, no-fasting rule due to complications with my pregnancy. I was depressed enough about being left out of the spiritual experience of fasting, but compounding that was an awful homesickness. After ten months of being in Islamabad, I was missing my mom and I was missing the familiar taste of home. In particular, I was missing hot, spicy pizza.
I’m from Brooklyn, NY, where pizza was perfected into an art form. Growing up, I’ve eaten so much pizza that it’s practically in my blood. Consequently, when I feel sad or homesick, I crave spicy pizza. Then again, when I’m happy and want to celebrate, I also crave spicy pizza. Come to think of it, I pretty much always crave spicy pizza. Pregnancy cravings and my emotions (most likely magnified by pregnancy hormones) were making me crave spicy pizza with the white hot intensity of a thousand suns.
The problem? It was Ramadan. And while Ramadan in New York doesn’t mean much change in the day-to-day routine of business, I was beginning to discover that Ramadan in a Muslim country is drastically different. For one thing, EVERYONE is fasting. And that means, restaurants and fast-food joints don’t open until the evening, after iftar (when we break our fast).
We couldn’t go out for spicy pizza because shortly after iftar were the nightly long Taraweeh prayers, which, back then, didn’t end until after 10 p.m. By that point, it felt much too late to be eating a heavy dinner, considering that we had to wake up early to prepare the sehri (pre-fast meal) within a few hours.
So order delivery, you might say. Well, I couldn’t order delivery because I didn’t want my in-laws to know that I was ordering pizza. My husband had just been laid off his job, and while we had enough to get by until we left for America, spending over 1,000 PKR (Pakistani Rupees) on a one-time meal would make me look really frivolous. (Approval seeking? Yes, guilty as charged.)
So I thought, okay, no big deal, I’ll just make one myself. People do it all the time, how hard can it be? So I printed out a recipe from the internet and got to work. Turns out, for someone who has never baked anything before, it’s not as easy as it seems. I made a total rookie mistake of using VERY hot water for the yeast. And since I’d never worked with yeast before, I had no idea how to tell if it was working or not. (In retrospect, perhaps the dough NOT rising should have been a tip-off, but maybe I really WAS that clueless back then.) I was also working with our very dodgy old oven, which was missing temperature indicators for preheating the oven, so I had to play a guessing game to figure out how far to turn the knob to get the right temperature. I spent hours making the recipe, only to get a very sad, flat looking pizza that looked seriously undercooked in the middle. When it came time to slice the pizza, I may have cut it ten or twelve (thousand) more times than I strictly needed to (angry much?).
But I would not be deterred. After all, when you fall off a horse, you have to get back on, right? This time, I thought I was ahead of the game because I had a store bought crust. YOU WOULD THINK that it’d turn out better this time but no…This time I overloaded it with wayyyy too much sauce. It was so soaking wet that it stuck to the aluminium foil I put underneath it (I know, I KNOW) and fell apart in the middle. I then proceeded to cry and tear the rest of it apart with my bare hands (which, by the way, not a good idea when a pizza is JUST OUT OF THE OVEN. OW, HOT!)
The third time, however, was finally a charm. After coming back from almost a year in the States, I approached the task again, this time with a bit more baking and cooking experience under my belt and, thank Allah, a new oven. The results were DELICIOUS and instantly devoured by my family with a demand for more. Over the years, I worked on the recipe and my technique, until I found something that tastes close to home. I’ve tried MANY pizza places here in Islamabad, and I have to say, this recipe blows them all out of the water.
No Only two pizzas were harmed in the making of this recipe.
Spicy Pizza with Chicken Fajita Topping Recipe Notes
This recipe makes two 12-inch round pizzas or three 8-inch round pizzas. The photo above is one of the 8-inch ones.
We’re Desi, so we like very spicy pizza. This is hot enough for the adults but mild enough that Desi children don’t have an issue with it. You can dial up or down the spiciness by adjusting the red chili powder and green chilies.
The most efficient way to make this if working entirely from scratch is to marinate the chicken, then prepare the pizza dough and set it aside to rise. While you are waiting for it to rise, work on the tomato sauce and chicken fajita topping. By the time they are done, the dough should be ready to work with.
For the tomato sauce, you can find celery at the fruit and vegetable store (Farm’s Fresh) in Kohsar market. If you can’t get it there, substitute with coriander leaves instead, but add them in after the tomatoes.
You do not need to use ALL of the chicken and the sauce on your pizza. Use as much as you like and freeze the leftovers for later.
Hint: If you’re looking for a great appetizer to pair with this spicy pizza, try my Sweet and Spicy Chicken Sticky Fingers.
This spicy pizza recipe makes delicious, Brooklyn-Style homemade pizza a snap, even if you don't have a pizza stone or peel!
- 3 1/2 cups Bread Flour (or All Purpose Flour)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 1/2 cups warm water (41-43°C or 105-110°F)
- 1 1/2 tsp instant yeast (1 packaged or 2 1/4 tsp if you are using active dry yeast)
- 500 grams boneless chicken cut into cubes
- 1 tbsp ginger minced or paste
- 1 tbsp garlic minced or paste
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 tsp red chili powder or to taste
- 1/2 tsp green chilies very finely chopped or crushed
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 tbsp oil for frying
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1/4 cup celery chopped, with a few of the leaves
- 1/4 cup onion chopped
- 1/2 tbsp garlic minced
- 1 cup fresh tomatoes pureed
- 170 g canned tomato paste (6 oz)
- 1 whole bay leaf
- 2 tbsp parmesan cheese grated
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp basil
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp fennel (saunf)
- chicken stock from Chicken Fajita Topping
- Prepared Pizza Dough
- Prepared Pizza Sauce
- 113 g Mozzarella Cheese (4 oz), shredded
- 113 g Cheddar Cheese (4 oz), shredded
- Prepared Chicken Fajita Topping
- Mushrooms sliced, (optional)
- Black Olives sliced, (optional)
- Onions sliced, (optional)
- Green Bell Peppers (Capsicum) sliced (optional)
In a small bowl, mix the yeast with the warm water and wait 5-10 minutes for the water to foam. (Not necessary if you’re using instant yeast, but I still do it to be sure my yeast is alive and kicking.)
In a large mixing bowl, add the flour, olive oil, salt and sugar. If you have a stand or hand mixer, use your dough hook attachment. Mix together, then slowly add in the water and knead at low to medium speed until the dough is smooth and elastic. It should easily form into a ball with your hands. If it sticks too much, add more dry flour until it is workable.
Lightly coat a large bowl with olive oil. Form the dough into a ball and put it in the bowl, turning it gently so it is coated with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in a warm place for at least an hour or so until it doubles in size.
Marinate the chicken with all of the ingredients (except oil) for at least 30 minutes.
In a small saucepan, heat up the oil.
Stir fry the chicken until it changes color, then cover and let cook, stirring occasionally, until chicken is cooked through.
Remove from heat, reserve the chicken stock for use in the pizza sauce and allow the chicken pieces to come to room temperature.
Put the oil and butter in a saucepan and allow it to heat up until the butter melts.
Add the celery and stir fry for 30 seconds, then add the onion, cook for 30 seconds, lastly add the garlic. Saute these until the celery is soft, the onions are transparent, and the garlic no longer gives off a raw smell. Do not let the onions brown.
Add the fresh pureed tomatoes and fry until the tomatoes no longer smell/taste raw and their color has changed a bit.
Stir in the tomato paste.
Add the bay leaf, cheese, sugar and spices. Stir until combined, cover, and simmer on a low flame for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the chicken stock from the prepared chicken, and stir to combine. Cover, remove from heat, and set aside.
Prepare your pizza dough and set aside to rise. Put an empty pizza pan in the oven and preheat the oven to 230°C (450°F). (If you have an oven large enough to accommodate two pans, go ahead and put both in the oven, and adjust the instructions so that you can bake both pizzas at the same time. Most Pakistanis have smaller ovens, necessitating that we bake the pizzas one at a time.)
While you are waiting for the dough to rise and the oven to preheat, prepare the chicken fajita and the pizza sauce.
When the dough is ready, remove the plastic wrap and punch down the dough. Cut it in half (or in as many portions as you require). Put the balls in separate bowls and cover with plastic wrap again for about ten minutes.
If you want to add any other toppings, go ahead and chop them up now. I typically add sliced onions, green bell peppers (capsicum), black olives and mushrooms. You can add whatever you like.
Cut a large piece of parchment paper (if you can’t find this in Pakistan, use “butter” paper, just don’t bake on it) to serve as your “pizza peel.” Lightly dust it with flour. Take one ball out and place on the parchment paper. Flatten it gently with the heel of your hands. Starting at the center and working your way out, use your fingertips to flatten and stretch the dough to about a 1/2” thickness. Keep turning the dough so it doesn’t stick to the parchment paper. If the dough won’t stretch any more, let it rest for five minutes and continue until you get the desired size. Flatten the dough to a uniform thickness, then pinch the edges to form the lip of your crust. Repeat with second ball.
Brush the dough with a light coating of olive oil. Use your fingertips to make dents in the dough so that it won’t form bubbles.
Spread the tomato sauce over each pizza, but rather than going for thick layer, think of it more like the way you would butter toast, scrape the ladle around the crust to spread it as evenly as you can. It’s okay if there are a few light or bald spots, the cheese should cover that up. Around 2/3 cup of sauce for each pizza should be more than enough. If you like a saucy pizza, you can add more, but the tradeoff is that the crust won’t be as crispy.
Distribute half of the mozzarella cheese and half of the cheddar cheese evenly over the pizza, add the desired amount of chicken and optional toppings
Open the oven door and slide out the oven rack if easily possible, or else take out the pizza pan and place on a heat resistant surface. Using the parchment paper as a pizza peel, lift it up and carefully slide the pizza off of the paper onto the pan. You may have to jiggle the paper a bit to get it to slide off. Place pan back in oven and bake at 230°C (450°F) for 15 minutes.
Slide a spatula under the pizza and gently remove from the pan onto a baking tray. Cover to keep warm.
Slide the second pizza onto the pan and bake for 15 minutes.
If your pizza hasn’t turned golden brown on top (a common problem with Pakistani ovens), turn off your oven and turn on the grill, and cook each pizza from the top for about 5 minutes (or until it is evenly golden brown).
Slice and serve.
- When working with yeast, water should be warm not HOT. Use a thermometer if not sure.
- Aluminum foil is NOT non-stick.
- Do not over-sauce the pizza. Soggy crust is not fun.
- Stabbing/mangling pizzas is generally not a sign of good mental balance, unless you’re pregnant, in which case, all is understood.
Have you ever had to try a few times before you could nail a recipe?