Weeknight Cooking

15-Minute Dinners, Starring Trader Joe’s Incomparable Garlic Naan

Garlicky, buttery grilled cheese? Yes please.

February  7, 2020
Photo by JULIA GARTLAND. PROP STYLIST: AMANDA WIDIS. FOOD STYLIST: ANNA BILLINGSKOG.

It all began with an evening of mild panic. I’d been invited to a friend’s dinner, and she’d asked me at the eleventh hour if I could bring a “fairly substantial homemade appetizer.” Even on the most harried of days I’m not a last-minute person: My sense of balance is dependent on the careful planning and precise execution of life events. To add to it, grocery shopping was the very last thing I wanted to run out to do on a winter’s night.

I rummaged frantically through my fridge and cabinets, and all I found were bits and pieces. I opened my freezer in despair—could I disguise something in there as homemade?—and there, waving happily at me from the back of it, were two packets of Trader Joe’s garlic naan.

As a person who is routinely afflicted with diasporic culinary nostalgia, I generally like having some version of an Indian flatbread at home. But I can’t make chapatis to save my life, and my mother’s fenugreek theplas that I carry back from trips to India only last so long. Trader Joe’s naan is a pretty great substitute. In fact, it beats every grocery store naan I’ve tried: It is relatively slim, which means it cooks fast and develops a crisp crust, while also retaining a fluffy interior with those air pockets that only a tandoor can produce.

Like others, I mostly used these naans as scoops for dals, kormas, and chana masala. But, as I stood staring at them that night, I thought: They could be so much more than that.

I carried them with me to my friend’s home, along with some leftover roasted butternut squash, goat cheese, and a bottle of balsamic vinegar that I’d turn into a reduction. Once there, I placed the pieces of naan in a single layer on a baking sheet, brushed them with olive oil, topped them with the squash and the cheese, and popped them in the oven. Once the cheese was bubbling, they came back out for a quick drizzle of balsamic and some chopped parsley. Ta-da! A naan tartine.

That night’s experiment opened up a whole new world of speedy weeknight dinners ideas. Soon, I was turning them into sandwiches, wraps, even pizzas.

As I learned, naan has a good naturedness that makes it play nicely with just about any crowd of ingredients. Which makes it a great vehicle for whatever random stuff is languishing in the fridge: bits of roast chicken, leftover grilled veggies, and assorted cheeses and herbs approaching the end of their freshness. If that sounds economical, you should also know that they’re only $1.99 for a packet of four.

Best of all, this is a welcome reminder that eating well doesn’t always have to involve elaborate cooking. So, here are my top 5 ways to turn naans into a weeknight dinner, in 15 minutes or less. Think of these not as recipes, but jumping-off points—designed to spark your own ideas.

Sharing is optional. Photo by Julia Gartland. Prop stylist: Amanda Widis. Food stylist: Anna Billingskog.

1. Make an even-better grilled cheese

Make a sandwich with the naan, butter (herb, if you’re feeling fancy), and a cheese of your choice (I used a mix of sharp cheddar and Gouda). Heat your skillet, drop a bit of the butter in, and cook the sandwich until the cheese inside has melted, and the outside is golden and crisp. The clincher? A drizzle of hot honey.

2. Turn into a Tartine

Top an oven-crisped naan with herbed cheese, smoked salmon, and chopped capers. That, or virtually any combination of veggies, meats, and spreads you like. No matter what you choose, the odds of success are high.

3. Swap in as a quick crust

On your next pizza night, branch out and use a buttery garlic naan crust as your base. Other toppings to try: roasted tomato, spinach, and mozzarella or BBQ chicken, red onion, and gouda.

4. Stuff with rice, beans, and fixings

Warm the naan on a pan to get it soft, then fill it with yogurt, salsa if you’ve got it, rice, chicken, avocado, and pinto beans (that’s your cue to keep a can in your cabinet!).

5. Roll into a wrap

Warm a naan (a light crisp is fine here) and turn it into a wrap stuffed to the brim with sliced boiled egg, cukes, whatever fresh greens you have, tahini, and a splash of hot sauce.

What's your favorite lazy weeknight dinner trick? Tell us in the comments!
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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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Arati Menon

Written by: Arati Menon

Arati grew up hanging off the petticoat-tails of three generations of Indian matriarchs who used food to speak their language of love—and she finds herself instinctually following suit. Life has taken her all across the world, but she carries with her a menagerie of inherited home and kitchen objects that serve as her anchor. Formerly at GQ and Architectural Digest, she's now based in Brooklyn.

2 Comments

Erin W. February 12, 2020
My neighborhood Greek restaurant makes their Gyros with Naan bread filled with greek salad, gigantes beans, candied walnuts and lots of feta for the vegetarian version.
 
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Arati M. February 12, 2020
Sounds delish!!