Indian Feast, Part 1: Naan

Naan is a flatbread, leavened with yeast and in Indian cooking, it's baked in a tandoor, which is a huge clay oven. I don't own a tandoor, and I don't know many people who do, but it's possible to make naan at home using a cast iron pan. Some people recommend a pizza stone, but I think it's more difficult to work with a hot oven like that since the naan needs to be flipped quickly and only takes a bit of time to bake. It's delicious and one of my favorite things about eating Indian food because it's the best vessel for absorbing leftover curry sauces. Anyway, here's how I make mine.

Ingredients [serves/yields 4]:
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp yeast
1/3 cup warm water
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon oil (I used olive oil)
3 teaspoons yogurt
+ 2 tablespoons melted butter (not pictured, my bad!)
Start by blooming the yeast in the warm water. The water should NOT be hotter than 110 degrees or you will kill the yeast and the dough will not rise. I like to dissolve the sugar first and then sprinkle the yeast on top and give it a quick stir. I like to use "quick rise" yeast because it really is much quicker. You don't need to wait as long for the dough to rise.

While the yeast blooms, mix together the dry ingredients: flour, salt, and baking soda. Stir with a fork or whisk to make sure the mixture is uniform.
You'll know the yeast is ready when it looks frothy, almost like a cappuccino. Prepare a "well" in the middle of the flour mixture.
Then pour in the yeasty water, olive oil, and yogurt. Stir gently in the center with a fork, slowly incorporating in more and more of the dry ingredients until a dough forms and you can no longer use the fork to mix the dough. The dough should be somewhat sticky but you should still be able to handle it without your hands starting to look like monster hands. If it seems too sticky (maybe it's really humid that day or your yogurt is really watery) add in some more flour, 1/4 cup at a time until you can handle it. Knead the dough by hand for a solid five minutes. Then form it into a ball, place in a bowl, cover, and leave somewhere warm for 1 hour, or until the dough doubles. If you used normal yeast, not quick rise, you may have to wait 2 or 3 hours for the dough to double in size.
This is the dough after it's puffed up. Lovely, isn't it?
Now take out all of your frustrations from the week by punching this sucker down!
Knead the dough on a floured surface for 10 minutes. You want the naan to be really chewy and delicious so work that gluten. Once the dough is elastic and firm, cut it into fourths. Then, using either a rolling pin or your hands, flatten the dough into a circle (or whatever shape you end up with), about 1/4" thick. It's okay if the dough is thicker in some spots and thinner in others. That's the beauty of naan - there are fluffy bits and crisp toasted bits.
Next, heat up a cast iron skillet so that it is SCREAMING hot. If you toss a drop of water on the surface it should immediately steam up and disappear. Once it's hot, give the dough one last stretch, since it should have sort of bounced back with all the kneading you did, and drop it on the pan. It should immediately start to form lots of little bubbles. Normally, since naan is cooked on the side surface of a tandoor, it has the ability to bubble up (and cook) on both sides at once but sadly, gravity is against us in this case so it will only bubble on one side. Once it gets nice and bubbly, give it a flip. The naan should have developed a bit of nice color on the cooked side. After about a minute, give it another flip to check the color on the second side. If the bubbles have gotten toasted, it's done.
Immediately butter the hot piece (on both sides for bonus points and extra flavor, but one side is fine too). And finish cooking up the rest of the dough and butter those too.
And tada! Lovely, buttery, chewy but also crispy in some parts, delicious naan. If you're fancy, you could sprinkle on some garlic and parsley. Or to make this a dessert naan, you could sprinkle on some cinnamon sugar. You could even make pizza with it. The possibilities are endless; just use your epicurean imagination.

Next up: Part 2, the rice


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