May 6, 2011
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NAAN. The bread of a hundred Indian suppers, that unattainable bread only made in tandoors, by cryptic, grinning breadsmiths, men and women unwilling to offer up the secrets of their clay-oven magic. Well. Prepare to be naanplussed, because I’m about to drop some knowledge on you: it’s not impossible to make naan at home. Matter of fact, it’s quite easy. We’re gonna do it in a pan over reasonably high heat, because most of the cooking that a piece of naan bread goes through is through contact with a heated surface (what is that, conduction?), rather than the convection of heated air going through the tandoor.
Most naan recipes I’ve seen in my time are yeast-risen breads. Many of them have eggs in them. Many have at least eight ingredients. I have never made a recipe easier, faster, or more delicious than this one, however, which has four ingredients (flour, yogurt, salt, and baking powder), and takes about an hour, start to finish. Naan is a leavened bread, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that needs to be leavened with yeast; that’s what the baking powder is for, and it cuts down the waiting time. This is a quickbread, something to throw together when you decide, at 4 PM, “I’ve got a half-pound of yogurt in the fridge that expires in four days, a head of cauliflower, and a big ol’ sack of chicken thighs. I’m gonna make some Indian food!”
Adapted from this Bon Appétit recipe from 1998 – makes 8 pieces of naan
You will need:
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1½ to 2 cups yogurt, plus more if needed
- Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl. I like to do this with a whisk, or with my fingers. Or a fork, I guess, if you must.
- Plop in the yogurt, a little at a time, and mix – now, with your hands. The whisk won’t do you any good, and neither will a fork or a wooden spoon. Now is the time for brave and wo/manly deeds. Now is the time for triumph. Suck it up. Use your hands.
- Knead in the bowl until the dough ceases to be shredded-cloth/sofa-stuffing consistency, and becomes a smooth, elastic ball. Add more yogurt, or more flour, as the situation merits (but not much of either). Set the dough aside and let it sit for half an hour to 45 minutes. The dough won’t rise (no yeast, remember), but the flour will hydrate, and that’s what you’re looking for.
- After letting the dough rest, divide it into eight pieces, flour a flat surface, and start rolling them out: first make each eighth into a ball, then flatten the ball with the heel of your palm.
- Making sure each side is lightly floured, roll out the dough into flat rounds, about a quarter to an eighth of an inch in thickness. Brush the excess flour off and set on a plate, or, if you’re feeling really finicky, between sheets of wax paper.
- Once you’ve got everything rolled out, start heating a nonstick pan (or, my favorite, cast-iron), with a little bit of oil in it, over medium-high heat. A LITTLE BIT of oil. Not a lot. Story to follow.
- Once the oil has heated, gently lay down a round of naan, and let it cook, wiggling the pan occasionally, for five minutes per side, or until a multitude of brown Doneness Freckles™ mark both the obverse and reverse faces of the dough round.
- Sometimes, the naan will get puffy! This is okay! Just give it a few pokes with a fork, let the steam out.
- Keep warm in a 250-degree oven, and serve with delicious things, like Madhur Jaffrey’s curried cauliflower, or these delicious Indian-style mussels (recipe to come).
On flipping naan, and impressin’ the ladies:
My sophomore year of college, I had a debilitating crush on a fellow film major; we worked on movies together late, late into the night – sometimes calling it quits at 3 or 4 in the morning. After weeks of working with her, I finally built up the courage to ask her if I could make her dinner, at her place. She said yes. I was elated.
I made her an Indian feast: saag paneer, biryani, curried potatoes, and naan, as well as chocolate truffles with rum-vanilla whipped cream and sliced strawberries. We were in the kitchen together when I was making the naan, and I decided to impress her by flipping the naan without a spatula – just tossing them in the pan like flapjacks. I made it through three or four naan breads without incident when, finally, on the last one, I used a bit too much oil, and flipped: the bread rotated dully in the air, and came down heavily in a puddle, shooting a stream of hot fat into my face, centimeters below my left eye. I had a little red mark there for weeks, as though I’d been shot with a bb gun.
Needless to say, I impressed the girl. I didn’t win her heart, but we’re still very close. You ain’t gonna make someone love you with this recipe, but you’ll win friends for life.
And, for the love of God, use a spatula, unless you’re sure there’s not too much oil in that pan. Failing that, wear lab goggles.