food

Naan

Thick, chewy, buttery, delightfully charred naan flatbread is, in my humble opinion, the best thing about Indian food.  It is the perfect accompaniment to all of the saucy, spicy dishes its cuisine has to offer and it's also an awesome bread totally on its own.  I've tried several different recipes at home, some authentic and some far from it, but this one that I've put together is my favorite yet.  

The less authentic versions are often made quickly with baking powder and while they're fine in a pinch, they lack the characteristic yeasty chew that I'm looking for when I'm craving naan.  On the other end of the spectrum are recipes requiring a starter made two days in advance along with more complicated steps on each of the consecutive days.  These are wonderful when one has the forethought to get them going in time, but prohibitive when a craving strikes on the day you just want some flatbread.

This method lies somewhere in between, as good things often do, requiring just one day to prepare, very little active time, and loads of flexibility when it comes to the actual baking.  As a bonus, the easy dough is made with a short list of ingredients I'd be willing to bet you already have around.

Begin with a simple poolish in the morning -- this is just a word for a wet sponge starter.  Made with flour, water, and a tiny bit of yeast, its purpose is to really develop the flavor of the final dough.  A few hours later the poolish is made into a dough with more flour and yeast along with some honey for a touch of sweetness, yogurt for tenderness and tang, and salt because, well, bread just needs a bit of salt.

After the final rise, you're left with little pillows of dough so soft they won't even require a rolling pin; they can be stretched with just your hands.

Now is where the flexibility comes into play.  Traditionally, naan is baked in a tandoor oven; if you have one of those, by all means, use it.  For the rest of us, a conventional oven outfitted with a pizza stone or a dutch oven turned upside down works just fine.  Yet another option -- the one I chose -- is to cook your naan on the stovetop in a cast iron skillet or grill pan.  I love the contrast of the charred grill marks that this method, sacrificing none of naan's brilliant texture, provides.

I also break from tradition with my unorthodox finishing method.  Instead of ghee, I brush my baked naan with a simple mixture of melted butter, granulated garlic, and coarse salt.  It's a fast and easy way to inject a powerful hit of flavor into your bread.

Make this naan on a work-from-home day or turn it into a fun family project on a rainy Saturday.  It's so good alongside our favorite easy Indian dishes, or simply eaten with a sprinkling of parsley and a dipping of scallion-flecked yogurt.  If you're questioning whether you really need to make eight whole flatbreads, the answer is: Yes, you do.  They freeze beautifully and make great sandwiches, snacks, and all manner of accompaniments, Indian or otherwise.

Naan

makes 8 flatbreads

Poolish

  • 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup water, at room temperature

Dough

  • 1 quantity poolish
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt, buttermilk, or sour cream
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon salt

To Finish

  • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • pinch granulated garlic
  • pinch coarse salt

Stir together the poolish ingredients in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer until smooth.  Cover and allow to ferment at room temperature for 4-6 hours.

To the bowl with your poolish, add remaining ingredients and mix, either by hand or with the dough hook in a stand mixer, until combined.  Knead for 10 minutes, until dough is smooth and elastic.  Lift the dough and oil the bowl and the surface of the dough.  Cover and allow to rise at room temperature for 2 hours or until doubled in bulk.

Cut dough into eight equal pieces and shape each into a ball.  Place the balls on a floured surface and coat the tops with a bit of oil.  Cover loosely with plastic to prevent drying and let the dough balls rest for a half an hour.

To bake, either preheat a conventional oven with a baking stone or dutch oven turned upside down to 500 degrees or head a cast iron skillet or grill pan on the stove top to medium high heat.  Stretch each dough ball into an irregular oval when you're ready to bake it.  Each naan will take 3-5 minutes on each side, no matter which method you choose.

To finish the naan, melt the butter with the granulated garlic and salt in a small saucepan.  Brush each flatbread on one side when it comes off the heat surface.

Serve warm or at room temperature.  Leftover flatbreads keep for two days in an airtight container at room temperature or in the freezer for weeks.