I had so much fun yesterday.
This is something of a miracle. Why? Well, see, um, I didn’t grow up eating naan. That’s a NORTHERN thing. And I’m a proud SOUTHERNER. We ate rice. In fact, we had very little wheat growing up.
Speaking of which, one of you posted an interesting link to an article in The Times of India about how celiac and wheat allergies are being seen as impending epidemic in India. The apparent cause? Farmers growing a variety of wheat that our bodies can’t break down! I mean seriously. What good is it growing a form of wheat that more and more of us can’t eat?
Don’t get me started.
Where was I? Oh yeah. No naan growing up. As I was saying, it’s a bit of regional thing. People think of India as one homogeneous country, but don’t forget that (a) before England colonised India, it was a series of states, each with its own rulers (rajas) and traditions… and (b) India is a massive country. Think of the differences in food eaten in say, Louisiana as compared to Wisconsin. Pretty different right? Same thing in India.
All of this to say… I don’t have a family naan recipe. Which is pretty tragic because I truly love naan. Eating naan makes me proud to be Indian, as if I can lay claim to inventing the darned thing myself.
So, I tried every single danged recipe I could find, including the one furnished by my new “aunty” at The Samosa House. And I still couldn’t nail it. Until yesterday. Hallelujah people. Momma made herself some good naan!
Ah but then… but then… there was the gluten-free version. See, every time you guys asked for a gluten-free naan recipe, I winced a little.
Because how can you possibly recreate something as elastic and pillow-y as naan… when the very thing that makes it elastic is the thing that you’re allergic to?!
Now, I’m guessing that Shauna over at Gluten Free Girl and the Chef could probably figure out some alchemy that would come close, using an assortment of flours and seeds. And it would probably be better than this recipe. That’s because she’s a gluten-free genius, and one of the sweetest people I’ve “met” on these here intertubes. She and her husband are brilliant at recreating those bready delights we all miss. I’m often quite amazed at their tenacity and plain ol’ cooking smarts.
But here’s the thing: I’m lazy. I don’t have the time or the space for all those flours, and heck, until a few months ago, I wouldn’t have had the money for them either!
So here’s a simple recipe, that depends largely on cooking technique rather than ingredients to achieve a pretty tasty piece of naan.
For those of you who don’t know what naan is, it’s a little slice of South Asian heaven! You can find it in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and it’s often used to sop up all that curry that your fingers can’t scoop up. Naan is a pillowed flatbread, usually (but not always) made with yeast, that is cooked in a tandoor, a clay oven that achieves temperatures of 900 degrees Fahrenheit.
In fact, it’s those surface-of-the-sun types of temperatures that make recreating naan in our piddly little ovens so difficult. The dough doesn’t bubble in the same way, doesn’t char just so, doesn’t stay moist. Some recipes suggest cooking the dough in your oven (as hot as it can get) on a pizza stone. I’ve tried that method over and over again, and I end up with a dry, brittle and slightly undercooked bread. No good.
So here’s this method, which I consider even better because it requires nothing more than a rolling pin and your trusty cast iron skillet.
I hope you like it. It’s not the same as the gluten’d, tandoor’d version… but it’s still good eatin’. Enjoy! Oh, and if you’re looking for my regular naan recipe… it’ll be on Season 3 of Aarti Party!
3/4 cup lukewarm water (about 100 degrees Fahrenheit)
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar, plus 1 teaspoon extra
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons plain whole milk yogurt
2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups of Gluten Free All Purpose Flour mix (I use Bob’s Red Mill)
1 1/4 teaspoon xantham gum
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
Melted butter for slathering on the finished naans
1) In a large glass, dissolve dry yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar with warm water. Let it sit on your counter for about 10 minutes, or until it’s frothy.
2) Meanwhile, sift flour, xantham gum, salt, extra 1 teaspoon of sugar and baking powder into a large, deep bowl. Once yeast is frothy, stir oil and yogurt into the glass, and stir to combine. Pour into the dry ingredients, add the seeds if you’re using them, and using a fork, gently mix the ingredients together. When the dough is about to come together, use your hands. It will feel like there isn’t enough flour at first, but keep going until it transforms into a soft, slightly sticky and pliable dough. As soon as it comes together, stop kneading. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel, and let it sit in a warm, non-drafty place for 1 to 3 hours.
3) When you’re ready to roll, make sure you have two bowls on your counter: one with extra flour in it, and one with water. The dough will be extremely soft and sticky; this is good! Separate into 6 equal portions and lightly roll each one in the bowl of extra flour to keep them from sticking to each other.
4) To shape naan: either shape the naans with your fingertips, pushing each ball into a teardrop shape about 1/4″ thick. Or, using a rolling pan, roll each piece of dough into a teardrop shape, narrower at the top than at the bottom. It should be 8 to 9 inches long, 4 inches wide at its widest point and about ¼-inch thick. Once you’ve formed the general shape, you can also pick it up by one end and wiggle it; the dough’s own weight will stretch it out a little. Repeat with the rest of the dough.
5) Warm a large cast iron skillet over high heat until it’s nearly smoking; make sure you have a lid large enough to fit the skillet. Have bowl of melted butter at the ready.
6) Dampen your hands in the bowl of water and pick up one of your naans, flip-flopping it from one hand to the other to lightly dampen it. Gently lay it in the skillet, and set your timer for 1 minute. The dough should start to bubble.
7) After 1 minute, flip the naan. If it has blackened, don’t worry – that’s typical of traditional naan! Cover the skillet, and cook 1 more minute.
8) Remove from the skillet, brush with butter, sprinkle with a little coarse sea salt, and place it in a tea towel-lined dish. Repeat with the rest of the naans and serve.