Thursday, February 25, 2010

Serve with Flatbread

I made naan to serve with Chickpea Stew with Dried Apricots. I wanted to title this post something catchy and clever like, “Jack of All Trades, Master of Naan,” or “Naany Naany Naan Naan,” but, as you can see none of these made the cut. This recipe, however, did. It’s delicious and simple, quite easy to make, even if it takes some time, and totally undeserving of silly post titles.

Naan is a soft and flexible flatbread from India, traditionally made in super-hot tandoor ovens. I don’t know about you, but my apartment didn’t come equipped with a tandoor, and I don’t think they’d let me build one on the property. A pizza stone in a hot oven may not exactly replicate traditional conditions, but it allows me to make a darn good flatbread that just happens to be a fantastic accompaniment to virtually any stew or curry.

Naan is usually made with ghee (Indian-style clarified butter), but to save effort and cut corners (and because the recipe I adapted from Joy of Cooking (an older edition than this one) gave me permission by not even mentioning ghee) I used plain ol’ melted butter. Naan is also usually made with yogurt, which I tend to have in abundance, since I make it myself (with the help of this contraption). As a result it is tangy in flavor and soft and pillowy in texture. The dough is firm, but still surprisingly easy to work with, and I think that’s all because of the yogurt. Of course, not actually being a master of naan, I could be wrong.

In addition to using melted whole butter instead of ghee, I had to break another rule to make this naan. It is a rule I established for myself in order to make mealtimes less hectic and to allow me to enjoy the process more. My rule is to never try more than one new recipe in a single meal. Well, to paraphrase Captain Barbossa in Pirates of the Caribbean, that rule is more like a guideline. I break it so regularly it can’t really be considered a rule. Anyway, to alleviate some of the chaos of testing and taking note of two recipes at once (this one and the chickpea stew), I streamlined the naan process by using my heavy-duty mixer to make the dough. (I usually knead dough by hand, just to burn a few more calories. Using the mixer has come to feel like cheating on a diet.)

I love this bread and can’t believe I waited so long to try to make it. Now, I think I’ll break out this recipe whenever I make something that suggests I “serve with flatbread.” In fact, I might start combing my collection for such recipes just to have an excuse to eat naan again.

Naan with Whole Wheat Flour
I adapted this from Joy of Cooking by swapping out some bread flour for whole wheat flour as inspired by the naan recipe in Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I recommend serving the naan as hot as you can stand it. Just don’t burn your fingers or your mouth!

¾ cup plain yogurt
4 tablespoons butter, divided
1 cup bread flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon fine salt
1 ¼ teaspoons yeast (about half of an envelope-style package)
water as needed
a few pinches of coarse salt (optional)

1. To prepare: allow the yogurt to come to room temperature. Melt 2 tablespoons butter and allow to cool slightly.

2. In a large bowl or the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer, mix the yogurt, melted butter, bread flour, whole wheat flour, ½ teaspoon salt and yeast until a coarse ball of dough is formed. Add warm water, 1 teaspoon at a time if the mixture is too dry to come together.

3. By hand or with the dough hook of the mixer, knead the dough 10 minutes or until firm but smooth.

4. Oil or spray a large bowl with cooking spray. Place the dough inside and oil or spray the top of the dough. Place a sheet of plastic wrap on top of the dough and cover with a clean towel. Allow the dough to rise about 1 hour.

5. Preheat oven to 475 F. Place a pizza stone or inverted baking sheet on the middle rack in the oven.

6. Deflate the dough and divide it into 4 equal pieces. Form each piece into a ball, cover with a towel and let rest 10 minutes.

7. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Dust a pizza peel with cornmeal. Roll 2 (or more if they will fit on the peel) dough balls into long ovals, about 8-10 inches long and 1/8 to ¼ inch thick. Place the dough ovals on the dusted peel. Brush each with melted butter.

8. Carefully slide the two dough ovals onto the preheated pizza stone. Bake at 475 F for about 8 minutes or until they have puffed up slightly, the bottoms are beginning to brown, and the tops have a few browned spots. Remove from the oven and brush again with butter. Sprinkle each naan with a small pinch of salt if desired. Wrap in a clean towel to keep warm until ready to serve. Roll and bake remaining two dough balls similarly. Serve hot with dishes that recommend serving with flatbread.

Makes 4 naan or 4-8 servings.

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