At my dad’s birthday last year, we made an entire menu of Indian curries – his favourite. But when I volunteered to make the naan, my mom insisted on ordering some to pick up from a local restaurant. It’s ok, I told her – I can make pretty good naan from scratch! But she insisted, and someone wound up stuck in traffic driving to and from the restaurant, and we wound up with cold, no longer fresh from the oven naan with which to scoop up our curries.
A few months later she was over when I had a stack of naan on the kitchen counter. She tore into a piece and asked where I got it. “You made this?!” she asked, incredulous. We really could have had some of yours!
Of course there’s no beating a batch of naan that has just been cooked in a tandoor oven, which is tall and cylindrical and reaches temperatures of about 800F, much like a pizza oven. But you can make a decent batch of naan in a cast iron skillet, which withstands high temperatures and distributes it evenly. You could even bring a batch of dough and a skillet camping, and cook it directly over the campfire for a little added smokiness. I’ll never get tired of the way the dough bubbles dramatically in the hot skillet.
When people talk about prairie ingredients, wheat isn’t always the first to come to mind—but it’s a significant agricultural crop, and a staple in our kitchen. I love driving through the prairies past fields of wheat and canola. And so when Alberta Wheat’s Life’s Simple Ingredient asked me to share a recipe that highlights the wheat we grow right here, I was thrilled to.
There are flatbread and pizza crusts around the world and I’m a fan of all of them, but there’s something about buttery, chewy naan that’s universally loved. The oil (or use ghee!) and yogurt gives it that soft, creamy texture and slight tang, and the wheat flour gives it its famous texture and chew. It’s a simple enough dough to make; soft and yeast-risen, slightly tacky, which makes it easy to work with. Let it rest, then pull off chunks and roll the pieces as thin as you can on an unfloured surface (the counter needs to be tacky enough to grip slightly, like a post-it note) before cooking in a blazing hot skillet, flipping with tongs. Or you can cook it directly on your grill, giving it charred edges and a smoky flavour. In fact, warm grilled naan makes the perfect vehicle for roasted chicken, beef or lamb kebabs, grilled cheese and veggies with tzatziki, and is the best thing on a platter of hummus and olives, or with cheese or charcuterie, or just about anything.
To make garlic naan, crush a clove of garlic and swirl it around in your cooking oil or warmed butter or ghee to infuse it before you cook your naan. If you’ve never cooked with ghee, it’s clarified butter that has had any milk solids removed, meaning it won’t burn – it behaves like oil when you cook with it, but tastes like butter. Truly it’s the best thing ever. (You can buy it, or make your own: melt butter until it separates, spooning off the foam that rises to the top. (Eat it, or cook some eggs, or make popcorn.) Slowly pour off the clear butter, leaving the nutty milk solids in the bottom. Again, swipe that stuff up with some bread or something.)
Once you’ve got ghee – and homemade naan – in your repertoire, you’ll find all kinds of uses for it.
Thanks to Life’s Simple Ingredient for supporting this site by sponsoring this post, and helping me spread the word about one of Alberta’s most significant crops!