Naan like it

By Nick Roumel

 If I do say so myself, I make pretty good Indian food. I know this because I once took some Aloo Gobi to my Indian bank teller and she told me it was pretty good.

I also make a pretty good naan. I know this because a friend and I just pulled off an Indian feast for 20. He pretty much made all the food, but I did the naan. Not to mention the Aloo Gobi. 
 

Naan is a leavened flatbread from Northern India, traditionally made in a “tandoor” (an outdoor clay oven). Amazingly, there was an outdoor clay oven where we cooked our feast. I fired that puppy up and baked the naan in minutes, while Dan toiled away in the kitchen.
 
With the intense heat of a clay oven, the outside gets a bit charred while the inside becomes dense and chewy. A few interesting twists in the dough give naan its distinct taste,
including a couple of spices I had never before used. As a foil for Indian food with spicy sauces, or the fragrant yogurt-based raita, you can’t beat a hot disc of naan bread. (Unless it catches on fire, then you probably should whack it a few times with a spatula.)
 
 
Naan
The Food of India,
Murdoch Books
Ingredients:
4 cups maida or all purpose flour
1 ¼ cups milk
1 package dry yeast or .6 oz. fresh yeast
2 tsp. kalonji or nigella seeds (see note 1)
2 tsp. ajwain or carom seeds (see note 2)
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 egg, beaten
2 TBS oil or ghee (clarified butter)
¾ cup plain yogurt
1. Kalonji or nigella seeds look like black sesame seeds and have a savory flavor, slightly like a roasted onion. Years ago Zingerman’s made a bagel flavored with these and called it a “charnuska” seed. The flavor goes very well with bread and gives the naan a unique pungency.
2. When I went into the Indian grocer (Foods of India, Ann Arbor) to buy the kalonji seeds, the proprietor asked me what I was using them for. When I told him he gave me a handful of ajwain seeds to add to the bread. These are small pods, that look a bit like cumin seeds, and likened to the flavor of thyme. They are quite fragrant as well; I thought they smelled like oregano. 
3. I recognize that footnotes are disfavored recipes, and legal briefs. But it is important to note that because the yogurt had not been delivered in time when I made the naan dough, I substituted fresh goat milk. (Because while yogurt is hard to come by, who doesn’t have fresh goat milk?) Loved the pungency it added.
Directions:
Sift the maida (flour) into a large bowl and make a well in the center. 
Warm the milk over low heat in a saucepan until it is “hand hot” (the same temperature as your finger).
If you are using fresh yeast, add a bit of milk and flour and let it activate and grow frothy. 
 
If you are using dry yeast, you may want to activate it with water and a pinch of sugar. Adjust your liquid proportion accordingly.
 
Add the yeast, kalonji, ajwain, baking powder, and salt to the maida. 
 
In another bowl, beat the egg, then add the oil and yogurt. Pour this mixture into the maida and add 1 cup of the milk to form a soft dough. If the mixture seems too dry, add the remaining ¼ cup milk. 
 
Turn onto a floured work surface and knead for five minutes, until smooth and elastic. Place into a large, oiled bowl and cover, letting it rest for at least two hours, until it doubles in size.
 
If using a conventional oven, preheat to 400°. Place a roasting pan half-filled with water at the bottom of the oven which helps prevent the naan from drying out too quickly.
Punch down the dough, knead it briefly, and divide into 10 portions. Using the tips of your fingers, pull the dough into the traditional teardrop shape of naan bread. 
Put the naan on a greased baking sheet. Bake on the top shelf for 7 minutes, then flip over and bake another 5. (If using a hot outdoor oven these times will be much shorter.) 
While your first naan is cooking, shape the next one. You can make them smaller and fit more than one on the baking sheet, if you don’t desire to make each one the width of your oven. Repeat until all the dough is used.
 
Postscript:
 
I loved this recipe because I got to use the outdoor clay oven and a couple of spices I’d never used before. Plus the naan was pretty tasty.
If I do say so myself.
 
Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard, and Walker PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor. He occasionally updates his blog at http://mayitpleasethepalate.blogspot.com/.

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