Breaking Bread: A quick and easy Naan bread with raita and kachumber
Naan bread is all kinds of wonderful. It is fast to make, incredibly flexible and tastes absolutely amazing. Never has baking bread been this fast or easy. From opening your pack of flour to brushing the baked bread with butter, you will need no more than 30 minutes. Usually, naan is served alongside a curry, but I believe that this humble bread has the potential to be the main player of meal, just serve it with a mild and creamy yoghurt and cucumber raita or with a refreshing salad of onions and tomatoes, called kachumber, and you will easily please any crowd with this light and refreshing dish.
Life is tough. Period. There is nothing to add to that, no clever twist, no lesson to be learned. As I’m writing this, I feel how empty my batteries are, how straining the last couple of weeks have been, how much they have drained me. And looking ahead, I know that it won’t get better, it will get worse. I need rest, just a few days to escape. But even if I did have the time (which I don’t, thank you very much university), it wouldn’t help much. I guess, regardless of how fast you run, you can’t outrun your brain. It’s very much with you, all day. Every day. And with it, it brings the expectations and goals you have of and set for yourself.
This sounds all overly dramatic and it probably is just that. Drama. Which I personally really dislike. Life is not a twilight movie and once we forget that, we start taking ourselves much too seriously. Like I do right now. This is not a life-coaching blog, god damn it, this is a foodblog. And I’m not a 15 year old girl rooting for Team Jacob. I am man. So I do what grown men do to keep things real: I bake.
Of all activities in the kitchen, kneading dough seems like the most satisfying to me. There is something magical about transforming a stiff lump of flour and water into something soft and silky, by only using your hands. Lately I have been quite taken with Naan bread, which I like to think of as an Indian pizza (I realize that this is utterly inappropriate and quite far from reality). Naan bread has a very subtle sweetness that is stressed by its simple and fine toppings. It is often served with a nice and hot curry to balance the heat. While it works brilliantly with soups, especially a rich carrot and ginger soup, I personally like to eat it on its own. Just serve it with a bit of a kachumber or a fresh raita and you are in for a treat.The great thing about Naan to me is the ease and speed with which it can be made. From opening your pack of flour to slightly brushing the baked bread with butter you are not going to need longer than 30 minutes, give or take. This recipe is fool-proof and as much as I would like to, I can’t take any credit for that, it is courtesy of the lovely Anjum Anand from ‘Indian food made easy’and can be found here.
Flour Milk Baking powder Salt Sugar Mild olive oil Butter
For 5 medium breads I use 250 g of flour and 125 mls of milk, so a 2:1 ratio. All additional measures are for 5 breads.
- Before you start with anything else, heat up your oven. Make it as hot as you can get it (turn on the grill if you have one). The hotter your oven, the shorter the baking-time will be. Place a large baking tray in the oven and allow to heat up.
- Sift the flour and half a teaspoon of baking powder into a large bowl.
- In a separate bowl mix two tablespoons of oil with the milk (the milk needs to have room temperature, so that the fat of oil and the milk can mix better), add half a teaspoon of salt and two tablespoons of sugar and dissolve in the liquid.
- Add the liquid to the bowl and work it in, start by using a spoon or fork and use your hands once necessary.
- Place the dough on a clean and dry surface and start kneading. The dough should not stick to the surface, if it does dust the surface and the dough with some flour and knead in, repeat until the dough stops sticking. Knead the dough until it becomes soft and almost silky.
- Lightly cover the dough with some oil ( to avoid the it from becoming dry), cover with a damp kitchen towel or cling film. Put to rest at a warm place for about 10 minutes (the longer the dough rests, the better the result).
- Cut the dough into smaller segments. And form each segment into a small ball. Roll out the dough balls until they are rather thin (I prefer to use the ball of my hand for this job. Press down on the balls until they are rather flat. Use your finger to stretch the dough further. Place the ball of your hand on one half of the dough and use your fingertips to stretch the edge of the dough, this will prevent the dough from being compressed. The dough should be as thick as pencil). Naan bread is traditionally baked in a tear-shaped form (but, really, that doesn’t impact the flavour).
The topping of a Naan bread is not so much a topping as it is a seasoning. Don’t overload or overpower it. If you are using seeds for the topping, make sure to press them into the dough, or they will just fall off after or before baking, the same goes for spring onions or other vegetables. When using fresh or dried herbs, such as parsley, it might be necessary to mix the chopped leaves with a touch of oil, so that they will stick to the bread. For a nicer browning I sometimes cover the dough with a bit of oil before topping and baking it. I always add a bit of salt before baking. Here are some of my favourite seasonings. I am always looking for new flavours, so if you found something delicious, let me know!
- My all time favourite are nigella seeds, which add a very delicate, almost oniony flavour.
- Red peppercorns are slightly sweet and add an almost fruity note to the Naan
- Caraway seeds are not to everyone’s liking, but (especially served with a carrot soup) they make for an aromatic seasoning.
- Fresh coriander, finely chopped, with a touch of garlic and a bit of olive oil, spread the unbaked bread add a slightly mediterranean touch.
- Thinly sliced spring onions, with just a touch of salt.
- Sesame and nigella seeds add a slight oriental twist to this Indian dish.
Place the topped Naan on the hot tray in the oven and bake for 5-10 minutes or until slightly golden brown (My oven doesn’t heat up properly so I am bordering at the 8-9 minutes). Take out and brush with some melted butter. Serve immediately.
Kachumber is a fresh salad of tomatoes and onions. Just chop the red onion finely, do the same with the tomatoes. Add some chopped coriander and even more chopped parsley (this is how I like it anyway). Use a bit of salt and chilli as seasoning and add a drop or two of good olive oil. This really is no rocket-science, try to find the balance between all flavours that you like best.
Like Naan, raitas are served with hot curries, to balance the heat. They traditionally consist of yoghurt and cucumbers. I personally prefer yoghurt made from goat’s milk, because it is slightly higher in fat and a bit more creamy than plain yoghurt. Chop your cucumber, mix with the yogurt, add salt and chilli to the taste and some cumin (which I like a lot). Mix in a bit of chopped coriander. If you like add some grated ginger or chopped mint.
I like to serve Naan family style: Just cut it in hand-size pieces on a board, put some of the sauce and salad on the table. Spoon your raita or the kachumber on your naan and enjoy.