Naans are always a favorite at Indian restaurants. They are hot, blistery, soft, and great for dipping in soups or curries. But they also are usually made with yogurt and ghee, the traditional Indian clarified butter and so are most naans sold in stores. The one exception is Stonefire® Organic naan. It is Vegan and Dairy-free. But if you can’t find them in your local grocery store, you will love making them from scratch. No worry, after you learn to make these at home, you will no longer feel like you are missing out on the fun!
Speaking of fun, as you know, I like to find out about a particular food and its origins. Since we are all stuck at home, that’s the extent of the traveling we are doing these days! So the first written mention of naans dates back to 1300 AC in India but the practice of making flatbread most likely dates way back. It is found in Persia, Central Asia, and the Indian subcontinent. In India, naans are used as utensils. You tear strips and dip them in stews like curry, or use them to scoop out the food. Naans are the Indian version of tortillas or pita bread. Every region of the world has one or more versions of flatbread. It works beautifully.
What is the best flour to use
I have experimented using bread flour, whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, and gluten-free flour to see if it made a noticeable difference. As expected the naans made with bread flour were heavier and denser. Bread flour has more gluten and protein so it is more nutritional but naans won’t rise and be as fluffy as those made with all-purpose flour. The same happened with the gluten-free flour, a lot less expansion of the dough, but still good flavor. The best results were obtained with all-purpose flour. This is in fact what Indians used to make traditional naans.
Which leavening agent should I use?
This is an important question because perfect naans are so light and fluffy!
There are basically 2 ways to make traditional naans. The first one uses yogurt and baking soda or milk and baking soda and the other way uses active dry yeast. I started my experimentation using dry yeast and it created a nice souple dough. But after not using my active yeast for a while, it lost its potency and the resulting batch was flat and a little dense! Then, I tried just using plain vegan yogurt and baking soda, and it worked out really well but it had to rest for 2-3 hours so it wasn’t a quick recipe! It made a beautifully soft and bouncy dough! I swapped the plain yogurt for soy milk but it didn’t work as well. I tried adding some lemon to the soy milk to curdle it a little and it helped, but the yogurt was the easiest and the best of all three.
How to bake it
Naans are traditionally baked in a clay oven fueled by charcoal or wood, called a tandoor. Bakers flatten balls and slap them on the inner walls of the tandoor. They quickly form bubbles and the chewy texture we so love. But what are we to do since most of us don’t have a tandoor oven laying around?
You can use a conventional or convection oven with a pizza stone but you won’t get the soft texture and it will be a bit dryer. Still good though, just not the same.
I like to use a dry hot cast iron pan (good for building a strong grip and arm strength too!) It produces nice blisters on top but tends to make crispy bottoms. Most of the time I don’t mind it since we end up using them for dips and spreads.
Back to our perfect naans! We are headed in the right direction with the burnt blisters but what about the chewiness? It turns out that the trick is in using a flat crepe pan (cannot be non-stick!) called a Tawa and putting some water at the bottom of the naan before you cook it. Quite ingenious really! It keeps the bottom of the naan soft but allows you to turn the pan over and place it over the flame to create the burnt blisters. Now you have perfect tops and bottoms! This just goes to show that when there is a will there is a way! Tandoor ovens are large and expensive so how can Indian families overseas make the perfect fluffy naans at home? They experimented and came up with the right tool and method!
TIP: Generally speaking it is better to not use extra flour when you knead your dough because it can make it tougher. Instead, use a little olive oil on your hands and board.
Why make a plain naan when you can add minced garlic, fresh cilantro, black sesame seeds with a little melted vegan butter or vegetable oil. The best way is to add the herbs when you flatten each naan and use the roller to embed them in. Then cook them. When done, you can use a silicone brush and add some oil with herbs right before serving.
How to reheat naans (fresh or store-bought)
As with most flatbreads, you want to sprinkle some water on the naans before reheating them in the oven (2-3 minutes at 400 F). Without the water, they will get hard and crispy instead of soft and chewy.
How long can naans keep?
It is best to place the unused naans in a Ziploc bag. You can keep them on the counter for 5-7 days and a few days more if you refrigerate them. I like to make a double batch and freeze them for later.
Yeast-Free Vegan Onion & Garlic Naans
- silicone brush
- cast iron pan or thick flat skillet
Dough Dry Ingredients
- 1 3/4 cup All-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
Dough Wet Ingredients
- 1/2 cup plain vegan yogurt
- 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp olive oil or melted vegan butter
- 2 tbsp minced garlic
- 2 tbsp fresh minced cilantro
- 1 tbsp black sesame seeds (optional)
Prepare the dough
- In a large bowl, mix all dry ingredients and gently mix.
- In a smaller bowl, combine yogurt or milk and oil.
- Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour half of the wet mixture.
- Using you hands, gently mix and turn. Add the rest of the liquid and gently fold and mix until you get a soft and bouncy dough.
- Using a little oil if you need, fold the sides of the dough until you obtain a nice ball.
- Place the ball in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap until it has doubled in size (2 hours)
- Make 6 smaller balls and place back in the covered bowl.
Prepare the garnishing
- Combine the chopped fresh cilantro, minced garlic, salt, black sesame seeds in a little oil.
Cook the naans
- Heat up the cast iron pan or thick flat pan.
- Take one ball and gently flatten it with the palm, then with a rolling pin.
- Sprinkle some minced garlic, salt and fresh cilantro.
- Using the rolling pin, press down all the garnishing.
- Flip the naan and spread a little water all over.
- place that side down on the pan. Cook until bubbles start to appear on top.
- If you have a gas stove, turn the pan down, the naan should stick to it and slowly bring close to the flame to char a little.
- If you are using a cast iron, just flip when the bottom is cooked.
- Brush each naan with a little more oil and fresh herbs.