Keeping home-cooked meals fresh and interesting during the COVID-19 era has been tough, especially for a vegetarian family like mine. While I’m thrilled with beans, stir fries, and curries any and all times I can get my hands on them, I get a little self-conscious when I’m cooking for those around me. What if they get sick of my usual dishes? What if I’m not making enough? Is the meal colorful enough? Does this dish even look appetizing?
Questions like these are natural. Sharing food is an intimate act that we could all benefit from appreciating a little bit more in our daily lives. Meal times aren’t just breaks to “refuel.” We aren’t cars or machines. We’re people. We assign cultural value to eating – at least, we have throughout most of our history – and we feel love through food.
With that in mind, I’m writing to share my biggest secret for a slam-dunk addition to any meal that will make family and friends alike “ooh” and “ah” at your culinary verve. Yes, folks. I’m talking about griddle naan. It’s easy, it’s relatively quick to make, and boy is it tasty. In this article, I’ll discuss the recipe I use, a few procedural tricks, and some simple dishes with which to pair your flatbreads.
Naan is a leavened flatbread that originated in India circa 1300 AD. Since then, it has been prepared and enjoyed countless times by fans and foodies around the world, and it is one of the most recognizable flatbreads on the planet. While naan is traditionally made in large ovens, I’ve found that it’s virtually impossible to get the same charred deliciousness and bite out of my kitchen oven at home. Therefore, I’ve adapted a griddle version that comes out a lot closer to the “real thing.” The ingredients you’ll need are as follows:
- 1 and 1/2 cup warm water
- 2 tsp active yeast
- 2 tsp organic cane sugar (use liberally)
- 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (add additional for kneading, if needed)
- 2 tsp fine sea salt
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- A dash of garlic powder (optional – adjust for your own taste)
- A healthy spoonful of yogurt (or dairy-free yogurt product – coconut-base brands like COYO are best)
- 4 tablespoons olive or avocado oil (and a little extra for your rising bowl)
A lovely part about this recipe is that it’s very easy to make it vegan! Just use dairy-free yogurt or omit the yogurt all together (the bread will still come out beautiful and delicious). The ingredients above are proportioned to feed a family of four. Adjust as you see fit!
What your dough will look like right around the kneading phase!
1. Measure out your water (preferably lukewarm, but any temperature below 100 degrees Fahrenheit will do fine) into a large mixing bowl, and add yeast and sugar. Stir and set aside for a few minutes.
2. Add flour, baking powder, and salt to the mixture in that order one on top of the other, so that the salt does not touch the yeast-water-sugar mixture until wholesale mixing.
3. Add your olive oil, yogurt, and garlic powder (if using) on top of the flour mound that is yet unmixed.
4. Mix it all together at once! I like to use a wooden spoon for this part. After mixing, the dough should be ragged and workable with the hands. If it’s still too sticky, add more flour. (Flour is the only way to get dough off of your hands and work materials too!)
5. Knead the mixture for about five minutes in the bowl (this way there’s less cleanup, and it comes out just as good as when you clean and flour your entire countertop). For a kneading tutorial, look here.
6. After you’re done kneading, pour a little bit more olive oil over the ball of dough and rub it around the edges of the bowl.
7. Cover with a damp towel and set aside for up to three hours (optimal). However, if you’re in a hurry (like I always am), you should be good to go with 45 minutes to an hour of rising. The key with baking bread is always planning ahead. Otherwise, it’s a stress-free, enjoyable process.
8. After rising, begin heating up your griddle on high heat. I use a simple stovetop griddle pan like this at home, but any flat, very hot surface will do. I know some folks who get beautiful results with skillets and cast iron gadgets of all types. Just make sure you’re not using anything with teflon! That stuff is dangerous.
9. While your griddle’s getting hot (should only take a few minutes), now’s the time to sprinkle flour on a small but clean work surface. Put some flour on your hands, too.
10 Punch down the dough in your mixing bowl and begin plucking off small balls of dough and pressing them quite flat (only about an eighth or a tenth of an inch thick) upon your floured surface. I usually like to work in twos because that is the number of naan breads I can fit on my griddle at once, but, depending on your griddle and your workflow, you can do it any way you’d like! (However, it is best to put the flatbreads on, then prepare the next round while the current ones are baking, so that you have something to do in the meantime!)
11. Once you’ve got your first batch pressed out (they can be any size, but for most eaters a five-inch-or-so disc or stretched oval will be perfect) and your griddle is very hot, reduce burner heat to just above medium. The breads already have enough oil in them to not stick to your griddle, so go ahead and slap your first round on without any additions to your cooking surface.
12. After waiting a minute or two (in which you could be preparing your next round of breads to be cooked), flip your naan breads with a spatula and gauge their level of charred-ness. Ideally, the little specks on your cooked sides should be a deep, rich brown color. Almost black, but not quite. If they’re too light-colored once you flip, no worries! You can flip the naan as many times as you want to get your preferred level of char on each side after both sides are baked hard enough.
13. While the flatbread is on its second side of cooking, press it down a little bit with the spatula to make sure the inside becomes just baked enough to be firm, airy, and soft. Again, don’t worry about precise timing here. It should take about a minute or two to cook on its second side, but after one or two rounds you’ll get into your groove and be able to sense when it’s done. Because you’re an awesome chef!
14. Repeat until you run out of dough and all the naan is cooked. Then serve!
15. Cover leftovers and store at room temperature for about 2 days or in the freezer up to 1 month. Reheat in the oven until warmed through for best results.
And there you have it! A simple and delicious naan for all occasions. I like pairing these yummy little numbers with a basic chana masala and/or a nourishing falafel meal! That being said, these flatbreads really do go with pretty-much everything, and I can’t wait to see what you come up with in your own kitchens at home. We got this! Happy baking!
Jonny Malks is a sustainable agriculture student and food systems educator in Virginia who uses the knowledge of how to grow food to build community. Connect with him on Facebook and read all of Jonny’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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