Naan is a popular Indian flatbread and one of my favorite parts of eating a big Indian meal. There are several other famous Indian breads, like chapati and dosa, but naan seems to be the most commonly served in the US. It is usually served with saucy Indian dishes, like curries. It’s meant to be an additional tool, outside your utensils, to soak up all the savory goodness. I’ve had my fair share of naan; at restaurants, purchased at the store, and homemade. Below are my tips for the easiest and best naan at home, depending on your schedule. Oh and one tip from my Indian friends: don’t say naan bread. They mean the same thing, so in a way, you’re just saying ‘bread bread.’
You will usually see two kinds of naans at the grocery store: fresh in the bread section or frozen in the frozen bread or international frozen section. If your grocery store has a fresh bakery section, where it sells its own baked good or a local company’s, I suggest getting the naan from that section. If they don’t have naan, but they do have flatbread, that’s a good substitute. If they only have big-brand bread, I suggest heading over to the frozen section. The frozen bread will have a much better texture and taste than most big-brand shelf-stable naan. Of course, you’ll have to cook the frozen naan, but I also highly suggest baking the fresh naan as well (the packaging will most likely have cooking instructions and it should only take a few minutes). Some of the frozen naan brands will come already coated with butter and seasoning. If not, chop up some garlic and put it in some ghee or melted butter and brush your hot naan with it. Chopped cilantro is also really nice on it.
Using Pizza Dough
I saw this as an idea from a “Things to Do with Pizza Dough” list, then struggled to find an actual recipe for it. Luckily, it’s pretty simple. I’ve made this recipe plus several variations of the homemade version, and don’t tell any Indian food snobs, but this is still my favorite way of making naan at home. For a few reasons. One, it’s insanely fast. It takes me longer to chop the garlic and cilantro than it does to prep and make the bread. If you’re craving some naan with your frozen Indian meal, you can whip up a couple pieces by the time the microwave goes off. Two, it’s versatile. If you’ve read my other posts, you know I’m a more-bang-for-your-buck kind of girl. By buying pizza dough (instead of premade, pre-shaped naan with seasonings), I get to choose what to make from it. Naan, pizza, flatbread, pretzel?! The main argument against using pizza dough is that it doesn’t contain yogurt and usually doesn’t bubble, so it’s missing that mild tang of true naan and the pizza dough is denser. While I 100% agree with that and as a lover of sour breads, I do miss that tang, the bottom line is, it’s still warm, garlicky bread that’s soft in the middle with a crisp outside. It’s hard to argue that it’s not good.
Tips: Dare I say most doughs in the canned dough section of the grocery store would work. I would avoid flaky croissants and biscuits, but other biscuits, crescent rolls, even pie crust would probably be just fine. And just because my whole argument here is speed, I don’t overly suggest frozen dough, but I imagine the end result would be similar. Although it may not look it, the pizza dough as is will probably be too thick to have the right naan texture. It thickens slightly on the skillet, so I recommend rolling each piece 25% larger. Grill up the first piece, then you’ll have a good idea of the thickness and can modify from there. Naan is best served hot. So if possible, get everything prepped before throwing the dough on the pan. Food, plates, drinks, all ready to go. If that’s not possible, turn your oven to 200F and put in a oven-safe plate or baking sheet and as the naan comes off the pan, place them in the oven. The temperature isn’t too hot to really cook the naan further, but it’ll keep them nice and hot. Finally, if you’re using the same pizza dough as me, it makes about six pieces. If that’s too much, grill the pieces you don’t plan to use yet but skip adding the ghee or butter. Put in a sealed container and store on the counter for a day or put in the fridge for a few days. They’re easy to heat up (pop in a 350F oven for a few minutes or even microwave for 20 seconds) then top with the ghee/butter, garlic, and cilantro for round two. Also, sans ghee, you basically made flatbread, so you can also transition from an Indian meal to a lovely Mediterranean dish, like a hummus and veggie sandwich, lamb gyro, or even some mini pizzas.
- Store-bought refrigerated, canned pizza dough. I used Pillsbury’s Classic Crust. Container is 13.8 oz as a reference. Like stated above, other canned dough would probably work.
- Ghee or butter. If you’re using butter, you will also need a neutral oil, like vegetable or canola, for the pan.
- 2-3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
- A few springs of cilantro, roughly chopped, optional
Take the pizza dough out of the can, unroll, and lay on a flat surface. Cut into six pieces. Roll each piece, attempting to make it more oval shape than rectangle (probably fail and accept that) until the dough is about 25% larger than what you started with. Mince garlic and place in a small bowl of ghee or melted butter. Chop cilantro and set aside. Heat a cast iron skillet or other pan to medium-high, put some ghee or neutral oil in the pan (butter and olive oil will burn at this high of heat). Place a piece or two, if it can fit, in the pan and check after about 30 seconds. Flip when the dough has nicely browned. Cook other side the same. This is a fast process, so stay with your naan. There’s only a few seconds between lovely brown crisp and burnt. Dress cooked naan with a layer of garlic butter and cilantro, if using. Feel free to add other spices to the ghee as well. Serve immediately. Skip the toppings if you plan to store and eat later.
Homemade naan is surprisingly not that hard to make and you don’t need any major kitchen equipment. You can mix by hand and you just need a pan to cook the dough. Once the dough is mixed and has rested (that takes about an hour), the process is quick. The dough usually needs just a couple minutes on each side to cook through. I’ve made homemade naan during the week several times, but you wouldn’t catch me making other breads or yeast-based things during the week that take longer to prep and cook through.
If you’ve read some of my other posts, you know I’m obsessed with the versatility of plain yogurt. I always have a tub at my fridge (either full-fat Greek or European); for breakfast, dressings, marinades, and yes for naan. It adds the mild tanginess that naan needs. I made naan several times and like the recipes that have a little more yogurt than some of the others. Besides yogurt and yeast, you probably already have everything you need to whip up some naan at home. So let’s give it a shot.
I’ve made Rasa Malaysia’s naan recipe several times. There are tons of simple recipes out there, and almost all include: flour, yogurt, yeast, oil, and salt. Here are some tips on choosing a recipe and making naan.
- Dough: This dough isn’t the easiest to knead because it can be really sticky. Make sure your work surface has a layer of flour, as does your rolling pin and the outside of the dough. I usually add a bit of oil or cooking spray on my hands so the dough doesn’t stick to me as much. Once you get past the stickiness of the dough, the rest of the process is so simple.
- Total Time: The dough needs to rise for about an hour. The mixing and kneading takes about 10-15 minutes, cutting and rolling takes about 5 minutes, and each piece of naan takes 3-4 minutes to cook. If I’m making naan during the week, I usually prep the dough and marinade some meat at the same time and let both sit for an hour. Once the naan has risen, it’s low maintenance and the cook time is fast. So if you’re making something else, like an entrée that’s a little more complicated, the naan shouldn’t stress you out.
- Yeast: I’m not a big baker, and if you aren’t comfortable with the concept of yeast either, my number one suggestion is for you to pick a recipe with the yeast you’ve purchased. Fleishmann’s ActiveDry Yeast is what I most commonly see in the baking aisle of grocery stores, but you may also have instant or RapidRise. The recipe should tell you what they’re using. If you have a different yeast, just keep searching. The recipe I use is for ActiveDry Yeast, but here’s a recipe for instant if you have that. Beginner level recipes should have the amount of yeast needed match what’s in a typical pack size of yeast. So don’t worry about measuring the yeast.
- The equipment: To make naan in a typical American kitchen, most recipes will request a cast iron skillet. If you don’t have one, just use your favorite pan. Choose a cooking oil that does well at high temperatures. So avoid butter and olive oil if you can. I usually use canola or vegetable oil.
- Bubbles: Your pan needs to be very hot when cooking naan. Set your stovetop to medium-high and give your pan several minutes to heat. Sprinkle some water on the pan; it should sizzle vigorously if it’s ready. The naan should bubble after about a minute or so on the hot pan. It’s not a deal breaker if it doesn’t; it’ll still taste great. But if you want to try to get the bubbly texture, roll out the next piece of dough thinner and flip a couple more times.
Depending on if there are savory bits added to the naan, like garlic, here are some fun ideas to take these recipes and make it so much more:
- Flatbread sandwich: Something with hummus, olives, lots of veggies, and your protein of choice.
- Flatbread pizza: Add pesto or marinara, cheese and toppings that you already have at home and bake for 5-10 minutes (using pre-cooked meats).
- Torta: Cook a bit more until a little crispy, but still foldable, and add Hispanic-flavored ingredients, like spiced ground beef, pickled onions, cilantro, and crumbly cheese.
- Sweet: Add mango chutney, apricot jam, or honey on top for a nice dessert or afternoon treat with coffee or tea.
What’s your favorite way to make naan at home? Do you have any creative uses for naan? We love being able to buy or make something and use it in several meals. We would love to hear your ideas!