Naan bread is a staple in Central and South Asia, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Iran, and India. The word “naan” may trace its etymology to an old Persian word, “nagna,” which means naked or bare, perhaps referring to the style of baking it uncovered. Today the word simply means bread in its land of origin, though in South Asia it has come to mean a specific kind of leavened bread.

According to one hypothesis, both tandoori roti and naan came into existence in Indian cuisine after Hindu refugees from Afghanistan migrated to India in the early 1300s. They brought with them a kind of clay oven called the tandoor, which eventually became popular throughout India. Amir Khusrau, a noted poet of the times, describes naan-e-tanuk (light bread), and naan-e-tanduri (cooked in a tandoor) in his work. The Mughal emperor Jahangir is credited with making the tandoor portable.

However, a variety of naan may have been baked as early as the Harappan period. Excavations at Kalibangan, (Rajasthan, India) show evidences of mud-plastered small clay ovens in primitive kitchens which resemble the tandoor very closely.

Naan is typically leavened with yeast, though it was also left to ferment naturally in the past. Cooks also add milk or yoghurt to the dough to make it soft and fluffy.

Over time, variations have sprung up all over the subcontinent. We have regional specialties like Afghanistan naan, seasoned with cumin or caraway seeds; Pakistani naan is made aromatic with rose petals, saffron, or khus(vetiver); Myanmar naan bya is served during breakfast with tea or coffee, often accompanied with boiled peas and soup; Indian naan is usually glazed with ghee and flavored with garlic while the Peshawar and Kashmir variations are enriched with dry fruits and nuts.

Malar Gandhi is a freelance writer who specializes in culinary anthropology and gourmet Indian cooking. She also blogs about Indian food at www.kitchentantra.com


Garlic Naan

Ingredients

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4 cups all-purpose flour
¼ ounce dry active yeast
4-6 teaspoons sugar
salt to taste
3 tablespoons whole milk
6 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup clarified butter (ghee)
In a wide bowl, mix ¼ cup of warm water, sugar, and yeast. Let this stand for about 10 minutes, or until frothy.

Add salt, milk, and flour and knead to a soft dough. Leave this in a well-greased, lidded bowl. As the dough will rise to 2-3 times its original volume, make sure that the bowl is large enough. Allow this to stand for at least 4-5 hours at room temperature.

Divide the dough into small balls of about 4 centimeters diameter each. Add about a ¼ teaspoon of minced garlic to each ball and knead thoroughly. Then press it into a tear-drop shape. Sprinkle minced garlic on top and glaze with melted butter.

Heat up a charcoal oven and wait till it is reddish hot. Grill for about 2 minutes on each side. Wait till they are slightly puffed and lightly browned. The naan can also be baked in a conventional oven for 30 minutes at 350° F.
Serve warm with a curry of your choice.

Sheermal

A light sweet snack from the naan family.

Ingredients

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1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ ounce dry active yeast
4-6 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 tablespoon golden raisins
¼ teaspoon saffron
¼ cup clarified butter
Prepare the liquid starter as mentioned in the Garlic Naan recipe.

Add milk, saffron, and flour and knead thoroughly to a soft dough. Place the dough in a well-greased, lidded bowl. Let stand for at least 2 hours at room temperature.
Divide the dough into small balls of 2 centimeters diameter each. Roll into a thin square flatbread and stud with raisins. Glaze with melted butter.
Bake in a conventional oven for about 20 minutes at 350° F. Wait till the breads are slightly puffed. Serve warm as a snack along with tea or coffee.

Peshawari Naan

Ingredients
4 cups all-purpose flour
¼ ounce dry active yeast
4-6 teaspoons sugar
salt to taste
3 tablespoons whole milk
¼ tablespoon coarsely grated almonds
¼ tablespoon coarsely grated cashew nuts
¼ tablespoon coarsely grated pistachios
¼ cup clarified butter
Make dough as mentioned in the Garlic Naan recipe above.

Divide the dough into small balls of about 4 centimeters diameter each. Add 2 teaspoons of mixed grated nuts to each ball and knead thoroughly. Then press each ball into a teardrop shape. Glaze the dough with melted butter. Grill the naan in the charcoal oven or conventional oven for 30 minutes at 350° F. Serve warm as a main course.

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