There are a host of breads from India, some leavened like this naan, others not, like chapatis and parathas. Naan is the white bread of the Muslim north-west, of Punjab and Kashmir and, beyond that, Afghanistan and central Asia. The large breads in restaurants are cooked in tandoors - beehive domes arching over a charcoal brazier on the floor of the oven, with food being introduced through an opening at the top. When making bread, the cook slaps the sheet of dough on to the side wall. It hangs down over the flame in the pit, one end stuck to the wall, the rest forming a huge tear shape below. Households, even in India, do not usually have tandoors, so home produced naans are then cooked in a conventional oven, under a grill, or over charcoal
The writer Helen Saberi, who lived and cooked in Afghanistan, has eloquently described naans made for her. While most recipes suggest a simple yeast dough, or sometimes a yoghurt fermentation, she noticed that many Afghan naans were made with a sourdough, or at least a fermentation based on a piece of dough saved from the previous day’s baking. This gives the bread an excellent sharp flavour which brings out the best of the taste of the flour. While Indian breads are often made with fine white flour (Indian wheat is quite strong and suitable for breadmaking), Afghani baking is usually done with finely ground wholemeal, similar to chapati flour, which could be used in this recipe.
The naan can be brushed with ghee or clarified butter for an extra touch of luxury, and this may be enhanced with a sprinkling of spice or seed as well.
If you would rather cook the bread under a conventional salamander grill, you may find the smaller size more convenient to handle. Turn the breads halfway through the cooking unless you have a heavy grill pan which can be preheated.
© 2005 Tom Jaine. All rights reserved.