Exploring ethnic cuisines is one of the great joys in my life, and I am one of those who, having discovered a new dish that I love, immediately has to go home and try and recreate (and often revise) it. One type of cuisine which has risen to the top of my list is Indian cuisine. Over the years, having now eaten at Indian restaurants at least 100 times, I have grown to appreciate the complexity and regional variations presented by this country. Although we rarely order the same combination of dishes twice in a row, there is one constant in our order: Garlic Naan. This form of Indian bread has many variations, and can best be described as a cross between a puff pastry and a flatbread. And while my wife and I are addicted to garlic naan, this bread is versatile, and can be seasoned with virtually any combination of herbs, spices and flavoring agents which suit your fancy. Indian cuisine will often utilize dried chiles, seeds such as onion seeds, cumin seeds and fenugreek seeds in their breads. Italian seasonings such as basil, oregano and parsley work well here also. I like to think of naan, chapatis, wraps, etc. as a blank palate, to be painted with your favorite foods and seasonings. Being a barbecue/grilling fanatic, a typical “morning after” ingestion for me includes firing up the grille to make a grilled meat and veggie dish accompanied by these tasty and unique breads.
Naan is traditionally cooked on a tandoori oven, a clay oven, usually encased in steel or metal, which cooks at anywhere between 700 and 900 degrees. The dough is stuck to the inside of the wall and cooked for less than one minute. I have found that it can be done on virtually any type of grille set for direct heat. A ceramic type of grille such as the Big Green Egg works particularly well here. Set your heat for medium-high, and you will minimize loss due to burnt edges. Enjoy these breads with Indian-style grilled meats such as chicken or lamb tikka masala, or tandoori chicken, lamb or fish.
(Makes about 12 naan)
1 envelope dry active yeast
1 ½ tsp. Kosher or sea salt
4 ½ cups all-purpose flour *
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 cup warm milk
½ cup Greek or Indian-style yogurt
2 eggs, beaten
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2-1 cup of the following, mixed (to your taste) onion seeds, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, chili powder, garlic
*For a real taste treat, substitute ¾ cup gram flour (chickpea flour) for the all-purpose flour. Chickpea flour tastes like just what it is, ground chickpeas.
Put the yeast, sugar, and ¼ cup of milk in a small bowl and mix. Cover and let stand for about 10 minutes, until the mixture begins to foam.
Put the flour, salt and baking powder in a food processor with a metal blade. With the processor running, add the yeast mixture, oil, yogurt and remaining warm milk. Mix and knead the mixture in the food processor until it comes away from the side of the processor bowl in a smooth ball, about 4-5 minutes. The dough should be soft and pliable, but not sticky. You may need to add a bit more flour to get this texture.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board. Flour your hands and knead the dough for a minute or two until it is smooth. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, making sure to get all sides lightly oiled. Cover the bowl and put it in a warm place to rise until it doubles in size, about 1-1 ½ hours
When the dough is ready, cut it into 12 equal-sized pieces. Shape them into thin balls. Put them on a lightly-floured baking sheet in a warm place, cover and let rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.
Now, get your grille preheated at medium-high, and have it ready to go for when the naan dough balls are ready. Roll the dough balls out on a lightly floured board until they are about six inches in diameter. Brush off any excess flour. Brush each naan with the beaten eggs and sprinkle your seasoning mixture over the top. Load three or four at a time onto the grille and grille about 2-3 minutes, until the naan is crusty on the bottom, and has puffed up on top. Turn them over and grille until lightly browned, another 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and brush with melted butter. Serve hot, with your favorite grilled entrée.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Richard Mezoff is a Louisville-based chef who owned the highly-regarded Tastes Restaurant, as well as Big Mama Mezoff’s Sauces. He is afflicted with “hickorophilia dementia,” an intense addiction to hickory smoke, a malady curable only by the consumption of healthy quantities of barbecued meat and veggies.