Uighur Nan

June  7, 2011
Author Notes

I was very lucky to travel to the most western parts of China along the Pakistan and Afghani borders a few years ago. Areas that are now closed to foreigners due to terror concerns. The Uighur people who inhabit this part of China are far more like their neighboring Asian cultures than they are Chinese. They are descended from Kyrghyz, Tajik, Turkmeni, and Uzbek people and their faces, food, music, and culture reflect this. One of the most ubiquitous street foods in this region, which is still largely populated by farmers and shepherds, is their Nan. It's different from Indian Naan. It's a flatbread, cooked in a Tandoor oven, but it is pricked all over by an instrument called a durtlik before baking, both to keep the bread from puffing up, and as a decorative measure. It's also seasoned lightly with cumin and sea salt, although rosemary is very nice too. It's basically pizza dough without the oil, and it's made the same way. You could mix things like other herbs into the dough as well. It's the perfect thing to tuck in your backpack for a long hike like we did, or to wrap in a cloth with some fruit and dried meats - as the locals do working in the fields or tending herds. The Tandoor oven gives is a nice charcoal bottom, but you can make them on a pizza stone at home. Enjoy the photos I took. This dish is the perfect compliment to another popular Uighur street food - kebobs and pulao. I posted those recipes here: Offerings

  • Makes 8, 9-10 inch breads
  • 3 cups lukewarm water
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 7-8 cups all purpose flour, plus plenty for hands and surfaces
  • 1 Tablespoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of good sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • feel free to sprinkle with chopped shallots, rosemary or anything else you like to make it your own.
In This Recipe
  1. Pour the warm water in a large bowl, sprinkle in the yeast and stir to dissolve.
  2. Whisk in 3 cups of flour and stir to create a batter. Let the mixture sit, loosely covered, for a couple of hours (or even overnight) to develop the glutens and flavor.
  3. When ready, sprinkle in the tablespoon of salt, and another 2 cups of flour, incorporating well.
  4. Pour yet another cup of flour onto a floured surface or board. Make sure your hands are well floured at all times throughout the process, dump the dough into the pile of flour and start incorporating it.
  5. Knead the dough, adding more flour as needed, until the dough is no longer sticky, but smooth and elastic. This will take anywhere from 5 - 8 minutes.
  6. From this point on, it's much the same as pizza dough. Form the dough into a ball, put it in a large, lightly oiled bowl, cover with a clean dishtowel and place it somewhere for about 2 hours to rise.
  7. While it's resting / rising, place your pizza stone in the upper third of your oven to heat and set the temp to 450F.
  8. After the dough has rested, turn it out onto a well floured surface, and with well floured hands, form the dough back into a ball, and cut it into 8 equal pieces by cutting it in half, then half, then half - you get the idea.
  9. On a floured pizza peel, or board, roll or stretch a piece of dough into a 9 -10 inch circle, and form a very slight rim using your fingers. Since you probably don't have a durtlik, simply use a fork to prick the dough all over. If you have a meat tenderizer with a patterned bottom, you could use that too.
  10. From above, scatter sea salt and cumin seeds evenly over the top of the dough.
  11. Place the peel onto the pizza stone and slide the Nan onto it. Cook for about 8-9 minutes until golden. Repeat for the other breads.
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