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Newly popular naan tastes like a dream

Newly popular naan tastes like a dream

A sandwich is a sandwich. But a naanwich, well, that's a phenomenon that has popped up all over the world as gourmands warmly embrace the South Asian clay oven bread known as naan.
No longer restricted to Indian restaurants or ethnic grocery stores, the airy and supple flatbread is now proffered in the bread aisles of Whole Foods and even many large grocery chains. Meanwhile, Sabri Naanwich shops serving their trademarked dish have risen all over Canada, and chefs in this country offer several non-trademarked versions of the inevitably named sandwich. Still, the mainstreaming of naan comes as a mixed blessing to Indian culinary authority, teacher and cookbook author Julie Sahni.
On one hand, "it shows the growing familiarity with Indian culture," she said. But on the other hand, some packaged versions in the bread aisle "can be just horrible dry, bready and so expensive, nothing at all what naan was ever supposed to be like."
Indeed, this clay-oven bread, which came to India from Central Asia with the 16th-century Mogul emperor Babur, is supposed to puff up like a crisp, tender pastry quilt and emerge from the oven in less than a minute. Pulled apart and devoured hot, naan should taste "like a dream and need nothing else on it," Sahni said.
But can that dream be re-created at home? The answers are yes and no. Sahni and her fellow Indian cooking expert Monica Bhide agreed that commercial versions can cook up nicely.
Scratch versions, however, can be a bit more complicated. Even though they are fairly easy to assemble, some require long rising times, and no one seems to agree on how best to duplicate the intense radiant heat of a tandoor, the traditional clay oven. Various suggestions include using a pizza stone, bricks in the oven, a hot toaster oven, a cast-iron pan, a barbecue grill or a broiler.
We tested a few recipes and cooking methods and found that the fastest and tastiest recipe came from Madhur Jaffrey's "Indian Cooking." It includes a combination of yogurt, yeast, egg and baking powder to create a fluffy, elastic dough that rose in about an hour.
"You can't compare it to bread from a tandoor," said Jaffrey, who shares her recipes and food memories in her recent memoir "Climbing Mango Trees."