Naan is ubiquitous in Toronto; you can get it fresh in a hundred restaurants (not all of them Indian, even), and it’s available for home purchase (fresh or frozen) in every major grocery store, being marketed by brands like Dempster’s, President’s Choice, and others. The word itself (meaning simply “bread” and dating back nearly 2000 years in the Persian language) has come to represent generic baked flatbreads of several regions, stretching from Iran and Afghanistan through Central Asia, parts of China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma. Naan is bread, simple as that, and I love bread.
I also love my new grill, so what better way to celebrate these loves than by grilling fresh naan over hot coals? Answer: there is no better way.
Typically, naan is created using flour, salt, yeast and yogurt. I’ve always been a failure at creating a good yeast bread, so I used a recipe (with small modifications) that calls for baking powder instead. It also asks for buttermilk, which will provide a similar “sour” flavour to the traditional yogurt. I am pretty sure you could just use plain yogurt in place of the buttermilk here, as long as you make sure the dough still ends up moist enough to work with. One day I will try that, but for now, buttermilk sounds just fine (and I happened to have half a carton of it leftover from making cupcakes).
Traditionally, naan is baked in a tandoor oven, which reaches a ridiculous 700 F. This is one of the reasons making naan at home is a challenge – a typical home oven maxes out at 500 F. To get my charcoal grill extra-hot accordingly, I lined the bottom of my grill with tinfoil (supposedly reflects more heat back at the food) and spent a few minutes gently blowing on the coals during cooking to make sure they were white-hot. In the process, I learned and re-learned some things about the properties of fire. Hurray, science!
The end product turned out approximately how I thought it would. Not “perfect”, but damn tasty regardless. The bread was nicely crisped underneath by the fire, but not dry, and had a nice chewy consistency. Soft and hot inside, crispy and brown on the edges. That’s some good bread. Let’s go quick, I’m starving!
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 1 cup warm water
- ghee, for brushing
- coarse salt, poppy seeds and sesame seeds for sprinkling
Serve with: everything
What you will need: large mixing bowl, measuring cups and spoons, your hands, grill (with charcoal, and tongs), plastic wrap, tin foil, large plate, rolling pin
1. In the large mixing bowl, measure out the flour, baking powder and salt. Using your hand (which is clean, of course) mix the ingredients evenly. Or use a whisk, whatever. If you want to make more dirty dishes, that’s cool.
2. Add the buttermilk. Using your hand, work the flour into the liquid gently. Next add 1/2 cup of the warm water and mix that in as best you can. Then add the final 1/2 cup and using both hands, work the liquids in until a soft dough forms.
3. Your hands are probably caked with flour goo by now. Scrape off as much as you can into the bowl, then wash your hands and dry them. Clean hands are much better for kneading dough.
4. Knead the dough. Work the dough with your fingers for about a minute until the dough is soft and consistent. It should be fairly sticky still. That’s what we want, so no need to add more flour or anything crazy like that.
5. Lightly grease a plate (with non-stick spray, or ghee, etc). Tear the dough into 4 equal portions. Using your hands, work each of those portions into a smooth hamburger shape (see above photo) and lay them out onto the greased plate. Brush some ghee on the tops of the dough patties, and cover the plate with plastic wrap.
6. Wait about 30 minutes (I think mine sat for an hour). This allows for the liquids to work with the flour to produce a softer, more elastic dough. It’s worth the wait!
7. Prepare your grill. I lined the bottom of the grill with tin foil, if you want to try that. I’m not sure it made any difference, but I’ll still experimenting.
8. Lightly dust a working surface with flour. Remove the dough patties one at a time from the plate and, using a rolling pin (or even just your hand if you don’t have one) roll/press them into a circle or oval shape about 1/2 inch thick and approximately 8 inches long. Sprinkle the tops of the breads with a pinch each of coarse salt, poppy seeds and sesame seeds. The seeds are optional, the salt is not.
9. Once the coals are covered with white ash and very hot, add one of the breads directly to the grill. Once it’s on the grill, do not attempt to move it for the first minute as the dough is still wet and may stick. The dough will firm up once it’s cooked – then it can be moved around the grill without falling apart.
10. The bread will begin to bubble (see above photo) as it cooks. Remember to keep the coals hot. I had to blow on my coals for a minute to get them back to glowing-red with tiny bits of flame. Fire needs oxygen to burn, so keep it well-fed and you will be rewarded. Just don’t blow too hard, or you’ll get a face full of ash. I also tried grilling with the lid on and lid off and concluded it was just fine with the lid off. This process will take about 3-4 minutes.
11. Once the bread looks nice and bubbly, the underside should be browned. Keep an eye on this just in case it starts to burn. It should look like the above photo. Once the bottom appears cooked, flip it over briefly to sear the top side, for about 10-15 seconds, or until the bubbles turn dark brown (see photo at the top of the post).
12. The bread is done! Remove it from the grill and place it under tin foil to keep it warm while you cook the rest of the breads.