I’ve already confessed to you that I absolutely love moving to new places. Well, about six years ago when I graduated from college, I moved to Chicago on a whim. I had no job, no friends, and no idea what I was doing there, but I was out for an adventure.
Without saying too much, I’ll just say that I ended up getting a job that turned out not to be my cup of tea. I think at one point I actually wished that the El (the public transportation system there) would break down indefinitely — with me on it — so that I could just hang out in the dingy underbelly of Chicago without going in to work.
But you know how they say that sometimes the best things in life come out of negative experiences? That’s exactly what ended up happening. I met a group of girls at my work who are still some of my closest friends today. We gossiped in the break room, went out together for happy hour, and made it our personal mission to get the most out of the free booze at the firm holiday party. They pretty much made that entire year that I lived in Chi-town the absolute best.
One place we’d frequent as a group was a little cheap Indian restaurant called India Grill in Lincoln Park. We’d all order different dishes, but we’d also get several orders the garlic naan to share. It was crispy and chewy all at the same time and its garlic-y goodness was enough to fight off vampires for an entire month. (After dinner breath mints = A must.) Problem was, the naan always seemed to disappear too quickly and I’d find myself wishing I’d ordered a whole platter all to myself even though I knew I couldn’t eat more than a few pieces.
I’ve spent a while trying to re-create that naan so that I can make as much of it as I want whenever I cook Indian cuisine. I think this recipe comes the absolute closest to the savory, smokey flatbread we so often craved from India Grill. Its dough uses the leftover whey of the ricotta/paneer (cheese), giving it a mild sourdough kind of flavor. It’s then rolled in freshly chopped garlic for spice and celery leaves for cooling and is cooked over an open flame for smokiness. It’s absolute heaven when dipped in pretty much any kind of Indian curry like the spinach curry dish I’ll be featuring on Thursday. And want to know what the best part is? You don’t have to share it with a single soul…unless you’re feeling extremely generous, of course 😉
- 1.5 teaspoons of active dry yeast
- 2 teaspoons of sugar
- ½ cup of warm water
- ¼ cup of whey (leftover from making the paneer; for a vegan alternative just substitute for water)
- 3 cups of all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons of minced garlic
- 1.5 teaspoons of salt
- 4 tablespoons of oil or ghee
- ½ cup of finely chopped garlic and celery leaves
- extra olive oil (or butter, if you prefer) for spreading on naan
Dissolve the yeast in warm water and sugar. After it has risen slightly, about 10 minutes, add the whey, flour, 2 teaspoons of garlic, salt and oil to the yeast mixture. Kneed into a smooth dough ball. Cover with a wet (but not dripping wet) paper towel and allow dough to leaven for 1.5-2 hours.
Once the dough has risen, roll into medium sized dough balls. Cover again and set aside for an additional 15 minutes.
While your dough balls are resting, spread out the remaining garlic and celery leaves onto a plate and mix.
Roll or pound your dough balls into a disc, dip one side in the garlic/celery leaf mixture, and then roll out on dough board until they are about 5 inches in diameter.
Heat a cast iron skillet or a stove-top griddle over medium-high heat and place disc (garlic-side down) on the skillet until golden brown. It’s kind of similar to cooking pancakes. If you have open flame burners, take the naan and place the uncooked side directly over the flame to get a bit of a char on the other side. This will introduce some smokiness to the naan. If you don’t have open flame burners, just flip them directly on the griddle.
Brush with oil or melted butter and serve warm with an accompanying curry. I also like to give mine a hit of freshly ground sea salt just before serving.
If you didn’t make you paneer from scratch or accidentally tossed out your whey (or for a vegan alternative!), just substitute for ¼ cup of additional water instead.
If you don’t have an open-flame burner on your stove, just cook them like pancakes on a regular griddle.
Recipe adapted from Veg Recipes of India.