Naan, which means "bread" in old Persian, is a delicious fermented flatbread that is traditionally cooked in a tandoor oven. It is said to originate in Mesopotamia, was brought to India by the Persians and was considered a delicacy in the Imperial courts of the Mughal dynasty around 2500 years ago. It is now ubiquitous to North Indian food and one can find it everywhere from fancy restaurants to streetside dhabas (shacks).
Sourdough also has its origins in Egypt and traditionally naan was made with wild yeast as there was no commercial yeast available. Sadly, most restaurants in the South Asian subcontinent and in the US make naan with commercial yeast or baking powder. Making naan with sourdough starter is not only the real deal but also results in a greater depth of flavor and a better tasting naan. Of course, combine that with a tandoor or wood burning pizza oven and you are in heaven; but to my great joy it is pretty good when made at home too!
I developed this recipe for a pop-up restaurant that I was running in Gowanus, Brooklyn. They had a pizza oven, though sadly not a wood burning one. I developed the dough recipe and my cook, who is a tandoor chef, showed me how they make the dough balls in restaurants with a hollow inside. If we had any dough balls left over, we would cover them with plastic wrap and leave them in the refrigerator to use the next day. But you must bring them back to room temperature before rolling out. You can add a tablespoon of yogurt to the dough for a little extra tang, but it’s not imperative as you do get some tang from the sourdough starter. What I love about this naan is how it is slightly crisp yet pillowy and chewy and with amazing depth of flavor.
It’s actually pretty simple to make. The only tricky part I found was sliding it into the oven. You can make it on a hot cast iron skillet on the stove and char the top on a naked flame, but my preference is to cook it in the oven. —MasalaMama
- Prep time 4 hours 15 minutes
- Cook time 40 minutes
- makes 10 to 12 naans
3 1/4 cups
ripe sourdough starter
unsalted butter, melted, plus more for spreading
olive oil, divided
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour with the sugar, salt, and nigella seeds. Stir to combine and make a well in the center.
- In another bowl, combine milk, sourdough starter, 2 tablespoons of the butter, and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Whisk in the egg with a fork and mix well.
- Pour this mixture into the well in the center of the flour mixture and combine with your hands. Keep a bowl of lukewarm water nearby and with your hands sprinkle some water on dry spots in the mixture. You'll likely need a couple tablespoons all told. Knead the dough to make a soft and sticky ball.
- Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the mixing bowl, put the dough ball into the bowl and flip the ball so that the top and bottom have a thin film of oil over it.
- Tightly cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap and let it rise in draft-free place, such as an unlit oven for 2 hours.
- After two hours, uncover the bowl and re-knead the dough for a couple of minutes.
- Divide the dough into 10 to 12 equal sized balls. I find it helpful to use a scale to divide the dough into balls of approximately 90 grams each, but you can eyeball it too.
- Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper or brush a thin layer of oil on it.
- Take each ball, make a little hollow shape in the middle with your thumb and bring up the sides to cover the hollow. Pinch the sides to seal the hollow. Put the balls on the sheet pan, seam side down, a few inches apart, so that it has space to rise.
- Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise again, for about 2 hours or until doubled in size.
- About 30 minutes before you are ready to make the naan, heat the oven to 550°F with a pizza steel or stone inside.
- Flatten each ball on a lightly floured surface and roll into a round or oval shape, somewhat thinner in the center and slightly thicker on the sides. Dust off any extra flour. The rolled-out dough tends shrink back and I like to stretch the pancake further with my hands.
- Transfer the stretched naan onto the hot pizza stone or steel. In the restaurant I would do this with a pizza paddle but at home I dust a wooden cheese board with a handle. This step is slightly tricky as it has to go in flat—it took me a few times to get the hang of it. Dust the paddle/board with flour and make sure the naan is not sticking to the paddle and slide out in one fluid motion.
- Cook each naan until you see some brown spots on top, 3 to 4 minutes. Spread a generous pat of butter onto the cooked bread and serve hot.
- You can also make the naan in advance and heat it in the oven before serving. In this case I would brush the pre-made naan with butter before reheating.