India has a new food icon (and the world has another great flatbread)

Once upon a time, butter chicken, chicken curry and samosas were identified as the foods of India.

With the popularity of flatbreads like lavash

With the popularity of flatbreads like lavash

Once upon a time, butter chicken, chicken curry and samosas were identified as the foods of India.

But rising with the popularity of flatbreads like lavash, pita and tortillas, naan bread has emerged into the mainstream and has become another iconic food of India.

Cooks around the world are gaining some “naan sense” and infusing this bread to create new combinations.

Naan is leavened bread, like pita, but softer and a bit larger. The general notion is that naan is the daily bread for an Indian meal. And yes, the flaky, buttery bread, served steaming hot out of a oven, is delicious and tempting — but it’s not what most Indians eat when they sit down to everyday meals. Rather, naan is served during special occasions or when eating out at a restaurant.

When dining out, some Indian restaurants will serve naan in a basket, like a dinner roll. Is naan equivalent to dinner roll? Not really.

Western restaurants serve bread at the beginning of a meal to help clients stave off hunger until their meal is served. When Indian restaurants began to appear in the West in the 1970s, to emulate Western restaurants, baskets of naan were set out with a variety of dips and condiments such as raita (yogurt and cucumber) and various chutneys. This explains naan’s appearance, though misguided, in the bread basket.

Naan is made from white flour, but health conscious cooks have turned to using chapatti flour or whole wheat flour. Because it is a leavened bread, most naan recipes call for fermented yogurt starter. Yogurt is a nice tangy addition which accentuates the flour, however, my recipe simply uses baking powder and yeast to help with the rising.

The only recipe I use for naan is one that has been passed down to me by mom. It is one of those fool-proof recipes that has never failed our family.

Using a mixer to knead the dough (you can do it by hand too) I mix all the dry ingredients followed by the oil and egg and then the water. Let rise, form balls, roll and bake. Very simple. But there is a little trick when baking your naan.

Traditionally, naan is made in coal-fired kilns called tandoors. The tandoor oven consists of a large thick clay pot that is buried in the ground and filled with hot charcoals. The dough is placed on a cushioned pad and baked by slapping it onto the walls of the oven while one end hangs out over the fire, making a pretty teardrop. In less than 60 seconds, the bread puffs slightly, browns on the side touching the oven wall and takes on a light smoky flavour The bread is speared with a skewer and removed from the oven wall to be served hot, slathered in butter.

So can you only make naan if you have a tandoori oven? No, homemade naans are easily baked in a conventional oven.

There are two parts when cooking naan. One side of naan is baked on stovetop while the other side is broiled in the oven.

If you are novice, it is best if you roll out all your dough first. Line an oven rack with foil and move to second top level from the broiler. Pre-heat oven to broil. Also heat a frying pan to medium hot on top of the stove. Once both the pan and oven are hot, place the rolled dough on the pan.

Let it cook for about a minute. Once light brown dots appear on the bottom side, take the naan from the pan and place it on the oven rack. The uncooked side will be under the broiler grill. Watch the naan through oven door as it puffs up and turns a golden brown colour. Remove immediately and place in a tray and butter it.

Most East Indians seem to have tunnel vision when it comes to their naan bread. They prefer to eat this with only the finest curries. But the “flatbread movement” has broadened the use of this versatile bread beyond the traditional accompaniment. It has also made delicious naan an international bread.

Make a regular wrap with naan as you would with a pita. Or if open-face or regular sandwiches is your preference, try tuna melts, grilled cheese and other favourites.

Naans are also great with dips. Cut the naan into diagonal strips and serve them with hummus, tzatziki or cheese dips. If you have some leftover naans, convert them to a quick pizza crust! Brush with olive oil, place in a pie pan, top with preferred filling and bake.

Now that you have gained some “naan sense”, go ahead and make your own creation!

Tandoori Naan

2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon quick rise yeast

4 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 egg (can exclude, but it make a chewier bread)

3/4 cup lukewarm water

Mix all the dry ingredients together. Mix in egg and oil. Add in enough water to make a manageable dough. Oil the top of ball and let rise at least 1 hour.

Punch down dough and divide into six equal parts. Roll into balls. If time permits, let them rise covered with plastic wrap for about a half hour. This allows the rolling out to be easier. Roll out each ball to quarter-inch thickness and 4-inch diameter. On top of the stove, heat a frying pan to medium hot. Line an oven rack with foil paper and move to second top layer. Pre-heat oven to broil.

Once the oven is hot and the frying pan are hot, place the naan on the frying pan. Let cook for about one minute. Once black dots form on the naan, take the naan and immediately lift it from the frying pan and place on the oven shelf. The uncooked side will be under the broiler grill. Watch the naan steadily. In a few minutes, the top will be tinged golden brown. Remove immediately and place in a tray and butter it. Repeat with remaining naan.

Chicken Naanwich

2 tbsp mayonnaise

2 tbsp basil pesto (homemade or store-bought)

2 naan bread 1 cooked chicken breast, thinly sliced

1 medium-sized ripe tomato, sliced

1 cup shredded lettuce

1/2 cup crispy fried onions (homemade or store-bought)

Salt and freshly ground pepper

In small bowl, combine mayonnaise and pesto. Set aside.

Spread pesto-mayonnaise mixture over the bottom (flat side) of both naan. Top each naan with chicken, tomato slices, and shredded lettuce. Top with crispy fried onions. (Try to keep the ingredients away from the edges of the naan for easier roll-up.)

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Roll up naan and secure with toothpicks, if necessary, to hold together. Cut each roll-up in half on the diagonal. Serve immediately.

Madhu Badoni is a Red Deer-based freelance food writer. She can be reached at Watch for Madhu’s Masala-Mix blog on

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