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Recipe: India’s traditional naan bread has global appeal

  • TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE
                                Roasted cauliflower pizza on naan with shallots, crumbled goat cheese and fresh cilantro.

    TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE

    Roasted cauliflower pizza on naan with shallots, crumbled goat cheese and fresh cilantro.

Warm, freshly baked bread drives me crazy. I associate it with my grandmother’s kitchen, my sister’s holiday loaves and trips to Poilane Bakery in Paris.

Little wonder, then, that loaves from the tandoor oven at our neighborhood Indian restaurant haunt my dreams. I could order one of each of the 15 offerings — from plain naan and roti, to deep-fried whole wheat poori to multilayered potato and cilantro-stuffed aloo paratha.

Christine Manfield’s gorgeous book “Tasting India” tells us that bread is a staple across all of India, “an everyday necessity as well as a signifier of celebratory and festive occasions.” She says thin, soft chapati is perhaps the most common household bread.

However, simple naan is the breakout star in our collective global food embrace.

Manfield says naan was introduced to the Indian repertoire by the Persians. These oven-baked flatbreads prove reminiscent of pita. Naan also is a yeasted dough, but the Indian tradition is to hand-stretch the tender dough into large tear-dropped shapes before they are slapped onto the walls of very hot tandoor ovens to bake. There are many variations to basic naan, with flavorings ranging from herbs to garlic.

I follow Manfield’s suggestions and bake my own naan on clay tiles heated in my oven set at 500 degrees. It’s nearly as good as the neighborhood restaurant, so I’m including an adaptation of her recipe here.

If you don’t have such an oven setup, tinker instead with store-bought naan found in both the freezer and bread aisles of supermarkets. My favorite snack involves simply smearing the naan with some garlicky seasoned oil and baking until crispy. A topping of nuts or seeds, honey and herbs sends the combination over the top.

Crispy baked naan wedges perfectly scoop up the following lentil and peanut dip. Serve everything warm on a cool night with a glass of sparkling rosé.

Convenient, easy naan pizza is a long way from the English muffin pizza of my youth. Rather than tomato sauce, I use a bottled curry sauce for the base. A topping of roasted vegetables and crumbled cheese creates an exotic but warm and comforting weeknight dinner.

The recipes that follow use naan weighing about 4 ounces each. If using smaller breads, reduce the cooking time a bit. Thick, fresh pita (without pockets) works well in all these recipes; just know that it tends to be a slightly denser bread without the delicious browning found on naan.

It’s easy to find garam masala and other traditional Indian spice blends in grocery stores and online. I stock several of these blends — most of which will work in these recipes. But fear not; if standard, reliable yellow curry powder is what you have on hand, go ahead and use it, as long as it smells and tastes fresh.

BASIC NAAN

Adapted from “Tasting India” by Christine Manfield (Conran Octopus, 2011)

  • 3 cups flour, plus more for work surface
  • 1 packet (1/4-ounce) or 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees)
  • 2 tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil

Mix flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Stir in warm water, yogurt and oil. Work with floured hands to form a dough.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth, 5 to 6 minutes.

Put dough ball into a floured bowl and cover with a cloth. Let rise in a warm spot until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Line oven with a pizza stone or clay baking tiles. Heat oven and tiles to 500 degrees.

Punch down dough and divide into 6 even pieces. Roll 1 piece into a ball then stretch into a thin elongated oval.

Place oval in oven on preheated stone. (You can bake 2 at a time if your stone is large enough to allow space between them.) Bake until bread puffs up and turns golden, about 5 minutes. Remove and wrap in a towel.

Repeat with remaining breads. Serve warm. Makes 4 to 6 flatbreads (pieces will be easier to handle in the oven if you make 4 larger pieces).

Approximate nutritional information, per naan: 256 calories, 3 g fat, no saturated fat, 1 mg cholesterol, 48 g carbohydrates, no sugar, 7 g protein, 393 mg sodium, 2 g fiber.

NAAN ‘PIZZA’ WITH CURRIED CAULIFLOWER

Adapted from “Tasting India” by Christine Manfield (Conran Octopus, 2011)

  • 1 teaspoon garam masala or curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon each garlic powder and salt
  • 4 cups small cauliflower florets (about 12 ounces)
  • 3 large shallots or 1 small red onion (total 5 ounces), very thinly sliced, separated into rings
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 whole-grain naan (usually two 8.8-ounce packages)
  • 2/3 cup bottled tikka masala spicy curry sauce
  • 1/2 cup finely crumbled goat cheese, or feta
  • Chopped cilantro, for garnish

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Mix curry powder, garlic powder and salt in small dish.

Mix cauliflower, shallots, oil and spice mixture on baking sheet; toss to coat. Bake, stirring once or twice, until cauliflower is fork-tender and shallots are golden, 15 to 18 minutes.

Lay out naan in a single layer on a baking sheet. Smear 2 or 3 tablespoons curry sauce over each piece. Top with roasted cauliflower mixture and cheese. Pop into oven to heat through, about 6 minutes. Garnish with cilantro. Serves 4.

Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 568 calories, 25 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 19 mg cholesterol, 71 g carbohydrates, 8 g sugar, 19 g protein, 1,145 mg sodium, 10 g fiber.

RED LENTIL AND PEANUT DIP

Adapted from “Tasting India” by Christine Manfield (Conran Octopus, 2011)

  • 1 cup (6 ounces) split red lentils, rinsed, drained
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons grated ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala or curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 dried New Mexico chilies, stemmed, seeded, cut into 1/8-inch strips
  • 1/2 cup dry-roasted peanuts, chopped
  • Chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish
  • Crispy naan wedges (see note) or pita chips

Fill medium saucepan halfway with water and bring to a boil. Add lentils. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until tender, 10 to 12 minutes.

Drain lentils; place in large bowl. Stir in garlic, ginger, cumin, curry powder and salt.

Heat oil in medium skillet over medium until hot but not smoking. Reduce heat to low. Add chilies and peanuts. Cook and stir until golden, 1 or 2 minutes.

Spoon into serving dish. Top with peanuts and chili with oil. Garnish with cilantro. Serve warm with crispy naan wedges or pita chips for dunking. Makes 2 cups.

>> NOTE: To make cispy naan, cut naan into wedges and coat in canola oil, then bake in 425-degree oven 5 minutes. Turn and bake until golden and crisp, another 5 minutes.

Approximate nutritional information per 1/4 cup serving: 202 calories, 12 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, no cholesterol, 17 g carbohydrates, no sugar, 8 g protein, 187 mg sodium, 4 g fiber.

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