Robert K from New Mexico writes: “Can I make naan breads without a tandoor oven?”
My reply: Yes. They may not be as spectacularly scorched and smoky as the ones in this photo, but they are certainly an acceptable substitute. Here’s my recipe:
Punjabi Baked Flatbread (Naan)
This popular leavened bread, especially enjoyed in Punjab in north-west India and Pakistan, is cooked in a traditional coal or wood-fired clay oven called a tandoor. Many versions of this flat bread are found throughout central Asia, from Iran in the East to the Soviet countries in the North.
The breads, enriched with milk, yogurt and butter, are slapped onto the inner walls of the hot oven where they cook quickly, partially puffing, and taking on a smoky flavour. The occasional charred spot from where the flames lick them adds a delightful crisp textured crust. This recipe calls for a household griller, which does a pretty good job.
If you have a tandoor oven, all the better. Naan are traditionally sprinkled with kalonji seeds that are also known as nigella seeds and occasionally misnamed as onion seeds. Kalonji seeds are available at Indian and specialty grocers.
DOUGH RESTING TIME: about 4 1/2 hours
PREPARATION TIME: about 30 minutes
COOKING TIME: about 6 minutes per bread
YIELD: 6 naan
1/2 teaspoons dried yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons warm water
1/4 cup warm milk
1/4 cup yogurt
4 tablespoons melted butter or ghee
3 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kalonji seeds
about 1/2 cup extra warm water
2 teaspoons extra kalonji seeds
Combine the yeast, sugar and warm water in a small bowl and set aside for 5-10 minutes, or until the mixture becomes frothy.
Mix the frothy yeast mixture with the warm milk, yogurt and melted butter or ghee. Combine the flour, salt, baking powder and 1 teaspoon kalonji seeds in a large bowl, and add the blended wet ingredients. Mix well, adding a little of the extra warm water at a time until the mixture leaves the side of the bowl and becomes a non-sticky, kneadable dough. Knead for 6-8 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and set it aside in a warm place for about 4 hours or until it is well risen.
Punch the dough down and knead it briefly, adding a little flour if it is sticky. Divide the dough into 6 pieces and form each piece into a smooth ball. Place the balls on an oiled plate and cover them with plastic wrap. Allow the balls to rest for 10-15 minutes.
Pre-heat the griller to the highest setting. Place a shelf 12.5cm (5 inches) under the heat source, and pre-heat your baking sheet. Roll and stretch a ball of dough into a teardrop shape, about 25cm (10 inches) long and 12.5cm (5 inches) wide at its base. Repeat for one more ball of dough and spray the bread with water. Sprinkle on half the extra kalonji seeds.
Place the breads under the griller and cook them for about 3 minutes on each side, or until they rise and turn golden brown. Avoid placing the breads too close to the griller, otherwise the breads may not fully cook inside before browning. If you wish, allow the breads to become slightly toasted, with a few charcoal flecks.
Remove the breads from the oven, cover them with a clean teatowel and repeat the procedure for the remaining breads. Serve the naan hot or warm.