Naan! Naan! Naan!

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Before I got to college, I knew I wanted to study abroad. I had studied Japanese in high school, which led to taking Japanese classes at Notre Dame, which naturally took me right into studying abroad in Japan. Oddly enough, this quickly landed me enough credits to nearly complete my major during my sophomore year. That’s right, I was a Japanese major. Guess how much I use that these days.

Anyway, Japan was a wonderful experience. I recommend studying abroad to any and all college students. If nothing else, it forces you outside your comfort zone and that’s a great way to grow.

One of my favorite parts of Japan was, of course, the food. I had promised myself before I went that I would try any food at least once. No fear, right? Yeah, right. Some of the food was a bit intimidating. I could have lived the rest of my life just fine without the squishy plop of a chopstick plunging into a fish eyeball while my 68-year-old host mother grinned at me, watching me for the uncontrollably horrified reaction I’m sure I betrayed. Or the mucus-like, itch-inducing yamaimo – mountain potato, in English – that tasted almost as bad as it looked (with or without the drizzle of soy sauce and raw egg cracked into the bowl). Shudder.

The scary ones always stand out, but there were plenty of delicious experiences to keep my memories fond and my taste buds nostalgic.

I remember the freshest of fresh fish, sliced paper thin and eaten raw. Or hot, fried noodles in an unidentifiable, tangy sauce served from a street booth at midnight. And endless supplies of marinated, skewered meats and vegetables roasted over a small grill burning at our table. Japanese food is fantastic.

One of my favorite food experiences in Japan wasn’t strictly Japanese, though. Meghan, a friend from Indiana University also studying abroad for the year, introduced me to Indian food. For the record, this was Japan’s take on Indian food. Much like America’s Tex Mex is an inauthentic-yet-delicious attempt at Mexican food, Japan had thoroughly embraced a particular dish – curry rice. Kare raisu is a rich, thick, and heavily spiced curry sauce with stewed vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, and onions. You’d choose your meat and temperature (like choosing hot wing sauce, ranging from mild to why-did-I-do-this-to-myself?) and they’d ladle generous helpings over white rice or noodles. Add a side of naan flatbread to help scoop and soak and life was good. I had to try my hand at naan.

I’ll be honest – I much prefer Japanese curry to the real thing, at least the “real thing” as presented by Indian restaurants in South Bend, Indiana. Who knows if that stuff is authentic. All I know is the local places keep getting shut down by the health department.

On Thursday, we invited my Dad and stepmom to a dinner of curry and naan. Fortunately, the curry is easy if you’re willing (like me) to just use the boxed Golden Curry from the asian food aisle at the supermarket. Loaded up with chicken, carrots, potatoes, and onions, the curry was just right.

The naan is a different story. Not quite what I’d intended, but still delicious. The flavor was great, especially when sprinkled with some garlic salt or dipped in the curry. But it was firmer and more cracker-like than it’s supposed to be. This is probably because it didn’t rise long enough (I was on a schedule and winging it) or because I had the oven set too low. Sorry, I don’t have a brick oven running at 550 degrees. A baking stone wouldn’t have been a bad idea, but my stone broke. So I used metal pans, preheated to 400.

The recipe calls for plain yogurt, but in such a small amount that I just tossed in a couple tablespoons of vanilla yogurt. In that quantity, is it going to ruin it? Of course not. I also cheated and used melted butter, not clarified (also called ghee), because I was behind schedule and I’m also lazy. Finally, I have been eagerly using my sourdough starter whenever a recipe needs yeast. Using more starter tends to accelerate rise times and that means reducing the sour taste – not a pleasant quality in a soft, chewy flatbread. There was no hint of sour, so I’d consider it a success.

Naan (Indian flatbread)

adapted from About.com Indian Food

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Ingredients

  • 3 cups all-purpose white flour
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 3 Tbsp clarified butter for the dough
  • 3 Tbsp clarified butter set aside for brushing
  • 3 Tbsp plain yogurt
  • 1 tsp salt
  • sesame seeds or onion seeds (optional)
  • peeled garlic or garlic salt (optional)

Directions

Add the dry yeast and sugar to the warm water and stir till the yeast is dissolved. Cover and leave aside for 10 minutes or until the mixture begins to froth. This indicates the yeast is active. Keep aside.

Mix the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl and add the yeast mixture, 3 tbsps of ghee (clarified butter) and all the yogurt.

Mix into a soft dough and knead until it is smooth and elastic.

Lightly grease a large bowl and put the dough in it, turning to coat. Cover and allow to rest for about 90 minutes or till the dough doubles in volume.

Punch the dough down and knead again for a few minutes.

Equally divide the dough and roll between your palms to form 8 round balls.

Lightly flour the same surface on which you kneaded the dough and roll out each ball until you have a circle, 7-8 inches in diameter (1/2 “thick). Gently pull on one edge of the circle to form the Naan into a teardrop shape. Do not pull too hard or you may tear the Naan. Instead of rolling the dough out (with a rolling pin) you can also pat it into a circle with your hands.

Preheat your oven 400 degrees F.

Lay a piece of aluminum foil in an oven tray and grease it lightly with a few drops of cooking oil.

Place as many Naans as will fit without touching each other, on the tray.

Brush each Naan with some ghee and sprinkle a pinch of sesame seeds, onion seeds, or garlic salt all over its surface. (Optional, but delicious.)

Put the tray into the oven and cook till the Naan begins to puff out and get lightly brown. Flip the Naan and repeat.

Remove from oven and serve hot.

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