While naans are common Indian restaurant food, I was struck by how soft and pillowy these naans from Central Asia looked, as well as by the different and interesting method the cooks used to shape them.
Right then and there I decided, naan it was for dinner. But I hadn’t written the dough recipe down, and was too lazy to check it up online. I did remember that the bakers only used flour, salt, water and oil. They also shaped the naan in two different ways, one similar to the way I usually do, with a rolling pin, and another that was totally alien to me, using their fingers and lots of water.
Since I didn’t have the recipe, I went with my standby recipe for naan, and just aped the method that the TV cooks used to shape them. And the shaping made a huge difference, as the bakers had said it would. The resulting naans were perfectly textured and they tasted wonderful. I did use bread flour, which is a refined flour, for this naan, but if you prefer whole-wheat, I have a great recipe here that I posted earlier.
To go with the naan, I needed a spicy, hot, chunky curry that would satisfy any palate. I had just gotten five different kinds of mushrooms from the Asian supermarket and since I think mushrooms are a great substitute for meat, I used them instead of lamb in this Malaysian-style korma that is just out-of-this-world delicious.
A word about the mushrooms: I used button, shiitake and portabella, which are the mushrooms I most often use, but I also found these two varieties of really cute, really delicious little Japanese mushrooms called Bunapi and Bunashimeji (the tiny ones in the picture). A woman was sauteing them right there in the store and offering a taste, and a spoonful later I was hooked. They were chewy, delicious and hearty. If you don’t want to use five varieties, but even just one or two, feel free. Of course, make sure you use more.
2 cups bread flour
1 tsp salt
1 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1 tbsp vegetable oil
3/4 cup soy yogurt
Water as needed
1-2 tbsp sesame seeds
In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a regular bowl, place all the ingredients and knead, using as much water as needed to make a soft, smooth dough.
Continue kneading for about 10 minutes on low speed if using a stand mixer, or a little longer if doing this by hand.
Place in an oiled bowl, turning once to make sure the dough is coated in oil. Cover with a cloth napkin and set aside in a warm place to rise for about 2 hours. (In winter, I leave the bowl in my unheated oven with the light on)
After 2 hours, punch down the dough and divide into four pieces.
Place a bowl of water next to you, and place a ball of dough on a lightly floured surface.
Dip your fingers into the bowl of water and press into the dough with all fingers, making little bumps and indentations on the surface. Starting at the top, work your way downwards, dipping your fingers into the water often, and repeating to press into the dough until you have an oval of fairly even thickness that is about 4 inches in width and 6-7 inches in length.
Sprinkle the surface with sesame seeds.
Pick up the naan, draping it over the sides of both hands. Now continue to shape it by stretching it with your hands until the naan is about 10-12 inches in length.
In a preheated, 475-degree oven into which you’ve placed a pizza stone of unglazed tiles, place the naans, one at a time, directly on the hot tiles. Be very careful not to burn yourself. Fit as many naans as will go on the tiles without overlapping.
Bake about 6-7 minutes or until the top and bottom are a pale gold-brown.
Remove with tongs and serve hot with mushroom korma (recipe follows) or any spicy curry.
Malaysian Mushroom Korma
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp grated ginger
1 large onion, sliced thin
1 1/2 tsp garam masala
1/4 cup soy yogurt.
1 14-ounce can of light coconut milk (if you can only find regular coconut milk, use half the coconut milk and mix in an equal quantity of water or vegetable stock)
About 3-4 cups of mushrooms (shiitake, portabella, button, or the Japanese mushrooms I mentioned above are all wonderful)
2-3 potatoes (I used purple potatoes), cut into 1-inch chunks and boiled or microwaved until just tender.
For the spice paste:
1 large red onion, chopped
7-8 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 2-inch piece of ginger, chopped
15 black peppercorns, ground
1 tbsp fennel seeds, ground
1 tsp cumin seeds, ground
1 tsp coriander seeds, ground
1-2 tsp red chili powder like paprika
2-4 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
Place the above ingredients in a blender and using just as much water as is necessary, process to a thick, fairly smooth paste.
Heat oil in a large, fairly deep pan like a Dutch oven
Add the onions and saute on medium heat until soft and translucent.
Add the ginger and garlic and stir for a minute.
Add the garam masala and stir to coat with the oil, about a minute.
Add the spice paste and stir well. Cook, on medium-low heat, stirring frequently to keep the paste from sticking to the bottom. Cook about 10 minutes or until the paste no longer has a raw smell and taste.
Add the yogurt and stir in and cook a couple more minutes.
Add the mushrooms and stir in. Add salt to taste.
Cook a few minutes until the mushrooms start to soften and express their juices. Add the potatoes and half the coconut milk.
Bring to a boil on medium heat, then continue to simmer for about 3-4 minutes.
Add the coconut milk and turn off heat immediately so the curry does not boil again.
Garnish with coriander leaves and, if desired, fried onions.
Serve hot with naan or with boiled rice.