Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Saveur’s Naan Bread (and Eggplant Curry)
Naan is the impossibly light, perfectly blistered, wonderfully chewy Indian flatbread cooked in a tandoor oven. The temperature, which can approach 900 F, in the tandoor is so hot that the naan wallah (or bread maker) needs only throw the soft, smooth dough against the wall of the clay oven and slide it out just moments later, before the bread is blackened beyond recognition.
Naan is one of my favorite things to eat at an Indian restaurant. I often want to branch out and sample other breads or side dishes, but the naan just won’t be denied. I thought I had accepted the fact that due to my oven’s inferior heating capability relative to the awesome power of a real Indian tandoor, I would never be able to make my favorite flatbread at home. But when I saw the recipe and accompanying photo in the May issue of Saveur, I couldn’t resist trying, even though I was afraid I was only setting myself up for disappointment.
Mike was game and we had a pizza stone and a cast iron skillet, the two pieces of equipment required by the recipe. I mixed up the dough according to the simple directions, using my Kitchen Aid stand mixer fitted with the dough hook to take care of the ten minutes of kneading. Against our better judgment, we attempted to stretch the individual naan by draping the dough over an inverted bowl. It stuck badly and stretched very little, so we rolled it out instead.
Our first flatbread looked great, but came out like a cracker. We shortened the cooking time, flipping the bread halfway through and eventually got the hang of it. You may get it on the first try, but if not, keep tweaking the process until you get naan that is browned in places but still very soft and chewy…it’s all about trial and error.
I wish I could say our naan was as good as India House, our favorite Fort Lauderdale curry stop, but I knew that would be too much to hope for. On the bright side, it was pretty good flatbread and fun to make. My biggest complaint was that the naan tasted too much like the Gold Medal all-purpose flour I used. The naan actually had a flavor similar to my homemade buttermilk biscuits—a great taste for biscuits, but not so much for naan. Doing a little more research, I came across one recipe that warned against turning the dough over when rolling it out to avoid getting loose flour on the top of the bread. I think this might help.
We made a spiced basmati pilaf and Saveur’s Bhaigan Bhartha, an easy eggplant curry dish to eat with our naan. The flavor of the baigan bharta was deep and complex, but I didn’t see the need for all the fat called for in the recipe. I used about a tablespoon each of butter and oil instead, and I cut my eggplant lengthwise and cooked it flesh side down under the broiler.
Our naan experience was definitely worthwhile, but since we won’t be installing a tandoor in our kitchen anytime soon, we’ll be off to India House when the next naan craving strikes…that is until I’m enticed by the siren call of another promising homemade naan recipe.
If anyone out there has found a great home method, don’t hesitate to share…
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