Naan at home
I LOVE bread. I am comforted by the fact that no matter where I go in the world, I will have food to eat, because almost every culture has bread. (I will also eat rice, in a pinch.) I love yeast bread, tortillas, pita, naan, baguettes, all of it.
The only problem with bread is that it is traditionally difficult to make at home. Quite often, bread ovens are huge, hot, expensive contraptions, which is why in a lot of cultures bread-making (or at least the baking part) is farmed out to professionals. For example, while France is known for its amazing bread, very few French families bake their own. They have boulangeries every other block that provide perfect loaves several times a day, so there’s no reason to fiddle around with all the flour, yeast, rising, kneading and baking at home.
One of my favorite breads is naan, a flatbread from India that is traditionally baked in a tandoor oven. A tandoor oven is kind of a barrel shape with a narrow opening at the top, made of clay or metal. You put coals in the bottom and light them, and the temperature gets up to 900-1,000°F. You cook naan by sticking the dough to the inside wall of the oven, where it cooks in a minute or two.
So in order to do this at home, you need a tandoor oven (starting around $1,000) and a place to put it where you can set fire to a huge pile of coal. I had completely despaired of ever having naan without driving to an Indian restaurant, then I found this recipe on Serious Eats.
I don’t have a grill, so I used my little cast iron skillet. I found that high heat was too high, so the first couple pieces came out over-charred. I tweaked the recipe using half whole milk and half Greek yogurt, and it came out with a tang that I don’t normally taste in restaurant-naan. This could probably be solved by using less yogurt-to-milk, or switching from Greek yogurt to regular.
The naan itself came out quite well. Not 100% authentic, but certainly good enough for home. And it was easy! I had never made bread that requires kneading and rising (thank you, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day!), but it was easier than I expected. The dough was initially really sticky, and I made a half-batch, so I did the initially kneading just by holding it in my hands and squeezing and pulling it. It rose in the bowl for 2 hours, then I divided it into twelve pieces, rolled them into balls, and let them rise for another 2 hours. They were easy to flatten out; I didn’t even get out the rolling pin, just stretched them in my hands, and patted them out on the floured pastry board a little bit.
I do think they would have been better on an actual grill, but at least this way I didn’t have to mess around with coals or anything. Having a bigger pan would have made it easier; I had to make each piece half the normal size to fit in my 8″ skillet. Maybe one of those two-burner griddles would be a little better. And they only take a couple of minutes per piece, so other than rising time, these are really fast.
Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day has a recipe for naan, but they just use the regular dough from their other recipes. They had some helpful tips for how to make it in a skillet, but I don’t think it would have been the same, because naan dough specifically needs the dairy (either milk or yogurt) to be correct.
We ate most of the naan with chicken tikka masala and jasmine rice last night, but the couple of pieces I had put into a ziptop baggie were still really good this morning; I think the dairy kept them nice and moist.
Given how quick and easy these were, I will probably be making them a lot from now on. Yay bread! 🙂