Calcutta (Kolkata) by way of California, this is traditional Indian Naan bread made with a San Francisco sourdough starter, a recipe I took word for word*, step by step** from Hindu-convert, Yamuna Devi's (nee, California Hippie-chick, Joan Campanella's***) "The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking". The curries in here are not stellar but the breads and sweets are fit for Lord Krishna, himself. Devi's suggestions for naan bread include a traditional sponge starter method, a packaged yeast method and happily, a Sourdough Starter Method. If it's one thing I have an endless supply of, it's sourdough starter, so I rolled up my sleeves and got kneading.
***Ok, ok, I'm only assuming the Hare Krishna cliché. I admit it's almost too easy to make fun of the sincerity of someone from California who went to India to become a Hindu in the late '60s. Maybe I've read too much Salman Rushdie to not be cynical. Anyway, here's the recipe:
1/2 cup liquid sourdough starter
5 tbsps vegetable oil, divided
1/2 cup yogurt
3 cups bread flour
2 tsps sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsps kalonji or poppy seeds (*ok, so I substituted nigella (black onion) seeds because I couldn't find kalonji. Actually, I don't even know what kalonji seeds are; does anyone out there know?)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
Mix the sourdough starter with 4 tbsps of the oil and yogurt in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt baking soda and your seeds of choice. Pour the sourdough mixture into the dry ingredients and mix first with a spoon then with your hands adding a bit of flour if it is too sticky. Knead for 6-8 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Cover and let stand for about 4 hours until well risen.
Punch the dough down and roll out with a floured rolling pin until the dough is about 1/4 inch or 1/2 centimeter thick. Divide into 6 pieces. (**This next part is a divergence from the original recipe in which I do not heat up the oven and bake the naan on a cast iron skillet inside it, but get great results with a covered cast-iron frying pan on the stove.**) Heat a cast iron skillet with a small amount of vegetable oil and with its cover on, on the stove to the smoking point. Take off the cover, slap a piece of dough flat onto the skillet and replace the cover. After 30 seconds, check the naan. It may be burned already or still quite pale. Adjust your heat accordingly and move forward. Like crepes, the first flatbread off the skillet often ends up an offering to the gods. Flip with a metal spatula and prepare a plate to receive the baked naans. After another 30 seconds, check the other side and remove from the pan. Repeat until you've a.) baked all the naans and b.) you've gotten the hang of this stovetop naan baking thing.
Music to munch naan by: "Dear Prudence", dedicated to Mia Farrow's sister Prudence, by John Lennon during the Beatles' own short-lived Occidental Hindu phase. Serve as an accompaniment to an Indian meal or informally with chutney.