Sunday, April 6, 2008

A Father-Daughter moment over Naan

I'm not really sure how it happened, but I think my father and I share some sort of subliminal Indian food cooking bond. Go ahead, laugh. We are both solidly in the amateur category; neither can claim ties to the cuisine based on heritage or personal experience (never been to India, we've probably cooked 20 Indian meals between the two of us). But when sitting down to write this entry, I realized that my Dad is associated with nearly all my homemade Indian food memories. I made my first all out Indian food meal for his birthday 5 years ago. Prompted by my budding interest in his coming-apart-at-the-seams Madhur Jaffrey cookbook, he brought home a copy with an intact spine... and a couple more Jaffrey cookbooks for good measure. He rediscovered the books (and the kitchen!) since retiring to Austin last fall, so he was the one I called for recommendations when D and I turned to Indian food to survive Lent. During Lent, he mailed me some hard-to-find spices from Austin and, when we came to visit for Easter, took D and me to an Indian store so we could stock up on dal. So it's not completely random that the first thing he does upon arriving in D.C. is cook up a multi-dish Indian meal in my kitchen. Not random, but almost everyone outside the blogosphere and our nuclear family would be completely befuddled that he and I have this thing for cooking Indian food.

Oh, and I wish that I could have captured the back-and-forth dialogue that accompanied my father's cooking spree and my mother's cleaning spree. There were lots of "Do you have measuring cups/a whisk/a rolling pin?" & "Where do you keep your parchment paper?" & "You mean to tell me that you have only ONE cookie sheet??" & "I GAVE you a cucumber slicer -- what did you do with it?!" Ah, family. Did I mention that the apartment is small?

Dad's going to tell you about his cooking exploits from yesterday, but I wanted to single out and highlight the horizon-expanding creation of the feast: the Naan.

Naan is like a cross between the puffed Chapati and high quality white sandwich bread, only better. Yeast creates the thin outer crust and the more sophisticatedly-textured crumb (I'm at loss for a better word), while baking soda makes it chewy. Like Chapati and unlike French baguettes, a very short period close to high heat puffs the bread out like an envelope, but the walls of that envelope are chewy instead of crispy. It also calls for yogurt, milk, and an egg, so the flavor is vaguely reminiscent of a subtle brioche.

It was by far the highlight of the meal, in my opinion. Crispy crust, yet substantial enough to sop up all the flavorful dal and veggies. A delicate yet interesting flavor on its own. Very satisfying. And very out of the ordinary, or at least out of 'my' ordinary.

Plus, now I know what a broiler is and how to use it. Sheepish grin.

Madhur Jaffrey's Naan

3 cups all purpose white flour
1/2 cups plus 3 Tbs milk
1 egg, beaten
3/4 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 packet dry yeast (Dad prefers the texture of a whole packet)
2 Tbs vegetable oil
4 Tbs plain yogurt
1/4 tsp black onion seeds

  1. Warm milk. Put flour into a big bowl. In a medium bowl, combine the egg, salt, sugar, baking powder, yeast, 2 Tbs oil, yogurt, and 5 Tbs of the warm milk. Mix well. Pour mixture over flour and rub it in with the hands.
  2. Add 1 Tbs of warm milk at a time to the flour, and begin kneading. Add up to 6 Tbs or enough so that all the flour adheres and kneading is easy. Knead until the dough is elastic (about 10 min). Form into a ball, brush with oil, cover with damp cloth, and leave in a warm place to rise for 2-3 hours. If the temperature is above 80 degrees it should take only 2 hours. Otherwise it may take about 3 hours.
  3. Preheat the broiler to about 550 degrees. Line 3 cookie sheets with aluminum foil, and brush lightly with oil.
  4. Knead dough again for about a minute or two and divide into six balls. Flatten the balls one at a time, keeping the rest covered, and stretch them and pat them with your hands until you have a teardrop shape of about 11 inches long and 4 inches wide. (Dad used a rolling pin). Place two naans on each baking sheet, cover with a moistened cloth and leave for 15 min in a warm place.
  5. Remove moistened cloths. Brush the center portion of each naan with water, leaving a 1/2 inch margin. Sprinkle the center portion with the onion seeds.
  6. Place sheets under broiler, about 2.5-3 inches away form the heat and broil quickly for about 2.5 min on each side or until lightly browned.


Psychgrad said...

Challah one day, naan the next. Interesting combination. I'd love to try making naan. I'll star this recipe.

Johanna said...

that bread looks delicious - I can almost smell it and am now wishing I had fresh bread in the house! You are lucky to have a dad who cooks and can share a kitchen with you.

Lisa said...

Naan is one of my very favorites. Now that I see this, I want to make some right now!