Home on the Range
March 4, 2012
Ann has been treating asthmatics in Kenya, caring for orphans in India, curing the sick in Cambodia.
I've been driving carpool, sorting socks and applauding the school musical, "Oliver!" Ann nurtures real orphans. I watch pretend orphans sing. I figured the least I could do was cook something distant and deserving.
I turned my attention to naan.
We order the Indian flatbread regularly, reveling in its buttery exterior, its chewy interior and its curry-scooping convenience. Producing credible naan at home, however, was fresh terrain.
I stirred and kneaded bread dough, bolstered, in the naan tradition, with yogurt. I let it rise and rolled it thin. Then I baked it. That's when the adventure set in.
I tried tossing the disks of dough onto a hot baking stone, which yielded a pizza/pita/puff, but not naan. I tried the stove top skillet, yielding sog. I Skyped Ann. "Well," she sighed, "it's hard without a tandoor oven."
Apparently the traditionalist bakes naan by kindling a fire in the center of a vast vessel, then throwing the dough against its clay walls. The naan sticks, then crisps.
I wandered my kitchen, looking for a means to sandwich dough between hot and hotter. The waffle iron seemed an ingenious solution. But wasn't.
Then I tried the laptop. Following electronic advice, I baked my bread on top of a griddle, under the broiler. The double sizzle — above and below — gave my naan its signature blisters and crisp/chewy charm. Isn't world travel a wonder?
Naan (Indian flat bread)
Prep: 20 minutes
Wait: 90 minutes
Bake: 2 minutes
½ cup warm milk
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 pinch sugar
½ cup plain yogurt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
½ teaspoon coarse salt
2 cups bread flour
4 scallions, finely chopped (or try finely chopped garlic or slivered mint)
Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
Pour milk into a small bowl. Stir in yeast and sugar. Let sit until creamy looking, 10 minutes. Stir in yogurt, 2 tablespoons melted butter and coarse salt.
Measure flour into a medium bowl. Add milk mixture and stir to a clumpy dough. Knead dough by hand on a lightly floured surface or using stand mixer fitted with a dough hook until soft and elastic, about 10 minutes.
Brush a large bowl with some of the remaining melted butter. Add dough ball, turn once to coat with butter. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 1 ½ hours.
Divide dough and roll into 4 balls. Roll out each to a very thin oval about 8 inches long and 5 inches wide. Brush tops with melted butter. Scatter on scallions. Sprinkle each with flaky salt.
Set a cast-iron griddle, smooth side up, on the top rack of the oven. An upside down cast-iron skillet will also work, but you may need to move down one rack. Heat the broiler. Set 2 naan on the hot cast-iron surface. Bake until bottoms are crisp and tops are pocked with golden brown (or even slightly charred) bubbles, a mere 1 - 2 minutes.
Use tongs to pull out breads. Fold each in half and wrap them in a clean kitchen towel while baking remaining breads. Enjoy hot.
Broiler baking technique thanks to the blog Once Upon a Plate.
Leah Eskin is a Tribune Newspapers special contributor. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.