I’ll never forget the first time I tried naan. It was the week before my freshman year of college, and my academic adviser took me and her other advisees to an Indian restaurant in St. Louis called Rasoi. I had never actually eaten out at an Indian restaurant, and at the time, the whole experience seemed exotic; here I was, about to start the next four years of my life, surrounded by complete strangers and eating completely different food.
I don’t remember what I ordered as an entree, and I can’t even tell you who was sitting next to me. But I’ll never forget the warm, doughy naan that the waiters kept bringing to the table. It was slightly charred on the outside, brushed with melted butter and lightly salted. When I ate a piece, it seemed to melt in my mouth. I had never tasted anything like it, and throughout the rest of my college experience, I kept seeking it out.
Nowadays, I crave Indian food frequently. I don’t want to break the bank, so I’ve tried to recreate most dishes at home. The one exception is naan. I never found a recipe that didn’t involve a Tandoori oven. Plus, the idea of creating the bread in my tiny apartment was slightly terrifying. I’ve had loaves of banana bread practically set aflame in my oven, so what would happen when I tried to make naan?
As it turns out, it’s completely doable. I won’t lie and tell you it tastes as good as what you’ll get at the restaurant; some things just can’t be imitated. But the recipe I found will create delicious bread, worthy of any meal.
Plus, the recipe is relatively straightforward. All you have to do is mix the wet and dry ingredients, knead the dough for a few minutes by hand, let it rise and then form it into small balls.
Then, you form the slices of naan by rotating the dough like you would pizza dough. You keep turning it around like a pinwheel, making sure to go slowly so the dough doesn’t tear.
Finally, you can drop it on a hot skillet greased with ghee (Indian butter). I would highly recommend finding ghee- it should be available at most international grocery stores. If you’re in Chicago, try checking out the Indian grocery stores on Devon.
Also, this might be naan sacrilege, but I found that toasting the slices on the second and third day returned them to their original state; that is, warm, doughy and delicious. You can serve the naan alongside an Indian entree, or even use the bread for sandwiches.
Naan (slightly adapted from Bon Appetit, April 2013 issue)
3/4 cup whole milk
1 1/4-oz. envelope active dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour plus more for surface and hands
1 tsp. kosher salt plus more
1 cup whole-milk yogurt (not Greek)
2 Tbsp. melted ghee or vegetable oil (plus more for greasing pan)
Heat milk in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until an instant-read thermometer registers 100 degrees F. Transfer to a small bowl and whisk in yeast and sugar. Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.
Whisk 3 1/2 cups flour and 1 tsp. salt in a large bowl to blend. Add yeast mixture, yogurt, and 2 Tbsp. ghee. Mix dough until blended but still shaggy.
Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface. Knead until a smooth dough forms, adding flour as needed (dough will be sticky), about 5 minutes. Lightly grease another large bowl with ghee, place dough in bowl, and turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in size, about 1 hour (it took my dough a bit longer, an hour and a half).
Punch down dough and divide into 10 pieces. Using floured hangs, roll each piece into a ball on a lightly floured surface. Cover with plastic wrap; let rest 10 minutes.
Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly coat with ghee. Working with 1 piece at a time, stretch dough with your hands or roll out with a rolling pin to 1/8 inch thickness. Sprinkle with salt. Cook until lightly blistered, puffed, and cooked through, about 2 minutes per side. Wrap in foil to keep warm until ready to serve.
I stored my naan by wrapping it in tin foil; it kept for three days, but you might want to toast it or reheat it in the oven to get a more desirable consistency.