Thursday, January 21, 2010

Naan, oh naan

When Dana and I were living in our first apartment together, we got hooked on this hole-in-the-wall Indian place that was down the street from us.

Looking back, I can't really imagine why we went there in the first place. From the outside, it looked more like a front for the mafia than a restaurant: peeling paint and faded neon, a sign announcing the specials from what looked like four hundred years back, and beyond the streaked, hazy windows the sight of two or three empty formica tables gathered haphazardly around a counter that took up most of the room. Not a soul in sight inside or out.

But once you got past the intimidating approach, there was something wonderful about it. Yeah, it looked like there was no one there, but as soon as you'd enter there would immediately be someone manning the counter, eager and always the slightest bit brusque, a wave of the scent of baking bread, of seared meat and spices, and the food they served was that near-impossible combination of fast, cheap, and good. The tandoori chicken was to die for, its skin always shattered and then melted in your mouth, the masala was invariably thick and decadent, but what has me nostalgic the last couple of days isn't the entrees there, it's the naan. At the time, I couldn't get enough of the hot chewy and crisp flatbread, not because it was a particularly amazing version, just because it was what it was. If you've looked through this site much at all, you know I'm a sucker for baked goods, for breads and pastries especially. Keep your desserts, a warm loaf of bread has more to offer than any dozen cookies ever could. And a loaf cooked hot and fast in a clay oven? Yes please.

Like I said, I've been jonesing for naan the last couple of days with no idea where to get it in town. This happens. Usually the solution is just to get past the craving. I don't know where to get naan so I don't get naan. Sometimes, though, I remember why (and that) I keep a food blog. If I want something, I'm happy--even ecstatic--to make it. If I remember to.

What's been stopping me here is that I've never actually made any sort of Indian food that didn't come from a box or a package. So what threw me over the edge this time was Bon Appetit. The latest issue of the magazine I'm always swearing I'm going to cancel and don't listed a family friendly Indian dinner in its index. A quick peruse of the directions made me realize that not only was it really easy, I had everything in stock. So I whipped up a batch of a yogurty garam masala marinade for some chicken breasts, chopped and tossed some carrots with cumin, salt, and oil and, my favorite part, whipped up about a dozen little rounds of naan.

And while I used this recipe from Evil Shenanigans (don't you just love that name? Is it just me?), I have since found this video on youtube that seems like it might be even more promising. Not that the little flatbreads I made last night weren't tasty--they were, and nicely chewy with little pockets of crunch where the dough was thin--but they were just a little bit tough. I like my naan crisp but exceedingly tender and the extra leavening from some baking powder might just be the key.

It was a hell of a meal. I'll try to post a link to the recipes from Bon Appetit when they get posted online but for now, I urge you to try making your own naan. It's really easy and so so worth it.

So tell me, kiddos, what foods have you been craving lately and what exactly are you going to do about it?


Yesica N. Cook said...

Ooo, now you've made me crave peshwari naan, mmmm... Haven't made any naan yet, actually, but bookmarked this ages ago:

Made one of their recipes a while ago - onion kulchas, which were dreamy. Happy New Year, btw! (a bit late...)

Chocolate Shavings said...

I LOVE naan, I commend you for making it at home, it looks delicious!

Lickedspoon said...

Oh, is there anything that defines pleasure more perfectly than ripping into a warm, pillowy naan? I've been trying to perfect one for a while now and haven't really mastered it - my determination is dampened somewhat by having quite a few good little Indian restaurants near my house to assuage any naan cravings. Thank heavens for small mercies and small breads.

Dawn said...

Your first attempt at Naan looks like it went pretty well. I think Naan is one of my favorite things about eating Indaian food!

justin said...

@yesica: that peshwari naan you have bookmarked looks phenomenal! Let us know if you end up making it, I'm super curious about how it is!

@chocolate, Dawn: thanks!

@lickedspoon: I am so envious of you and your good Indian restaurants! If you've been zeroing in on naan perfection for a while, surely you must have a recipe or a technique to share. What can I do to make my naan better than it is?