Tandoor ovens are traditionally associated with the northern and western regions of the Subcontinent, from Rajasthan and the Punjab in India to north-central to northern Pakistan (and beyond into Central Asia, where they originated). Over the last decade or so, they’ve also become a popular restaurant fixture in almost all tourist areas and in truck stops throughout the region, from Bangladesh to southern India. A tandoor oven is a large vertical clay oven shaped like a barrel. Breads made in a tandoor are baked by slapping flat rounds of dough against the very hot curved inside walls of the oven, where they immediately stick. Tandoors are heated to anywhere from 500°F to 800°F, so the breads cook quickly (under 3 minutes). Once cooked, they release from the oven wall and can then be lifted out (with a hooked stick) and served. The taste is delicious, like food fresh off a grill.
To make these tender home-style naans, assuming you don’t have a handy tandoor in your kitchen, we suggest you improvise as we do, by putting unglazed quarry tiles or a large baking stone in your oven and cooking the breads directly on the clay surface. It works well, and it’s fun.
About 4½ hours, or as long as 10 hours, before you wish to serve the breads, begin preparing the dough: Place
Place the milk in a saucepan and heat to lukewarm, about 100°F. Add the remaining
Rinse out your bowl and wipe it dry, then lightly oil with a little melted butter or vegetable oil and place the dough in it. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand for about 3 hours, to rise until more than doubled in volume. If you want to serve warm breads with a meal, leave the risen dough until 1 to 1½ hours before you wish to serve them. The dough can be kept waiting for as long as 6 hours if kept in a relatively cool place, not more than 70°F.
When you are ready to proceed, place a rack in the upper third of your oven and place a baking stone or quarry tiles on it, leaving
Pull the dough away from the sides of the bowl and transfer it to a lightly floured surface. Use a sharp knife or dough scraper to cut the dough in half. Place half back in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap while you shape the first four breads.
Cut the dough in half and then in half again. Shape each piece into a round ball, using both hands to round it and smooth it. Place the balls at the side or toward the back of a floured surface, and brush each one with melted butter, then cover them with plastic wrap and let stand for 20 minutes. Just before beginning to shape and bake these four breads, repeat with the second half of the dough.
Dust one end of a peel, or the back of a baking sheet that you will use as a peel, very lightly with flour or semolina or cornmeal. Place one risen ball of dough on your work surface and press and push it out with your fingertips to a round about
Place the bread near the end of the peel (or baking sheet) and pull on the edge of the bread nearest the end of the peel to make a more pointed oval or teardrop shape. If you wish, sprinkle 8 to 10 nigella seeds or a scant
Stack the baked breads and wrap them in a cotton cloth to stay warm and soft while you bake the remaining four breads. Serve warm or at room temperature. (The breads will stay warm for almost an hour after baking.)
Serve with grilled meat, such as Tikka Kebabs or Yogurt-Marinated Chicken Kebabs, Grilled Marinated Beef or Cumin-Coriander Beef Patties, or to accompany Chicken Biryani, Dum Style or Simmered Kashmiri Paneer.
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