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What Is Naan?
Naan is a leavened Indian flatbread traditionally cooked in a tandoor, a cylindrical clay or metal oven also used to make tandoori chicken. Plain yogurt gives the dough a pillowy, stretchy crumb, and cooking it over high heat gives naan bread its signature glossy, blistered surface, which is finished by brushing with ghee or butter.
What Are the Origins of Naan?
The origins of naan are not entirely clear. While the tandoor oven used to make naan is traditionally associated with Punjabi cuisine, it was likely introduced to India by the Mughal Empire, which ruled over India beginning in the sixteenth century. In fact, the word “naan” derives from the Persian word for “bread.”
What’s the Difference Between Naan and Roti?
While they are both Indian flatbreads, there are a few key differences between naan and roti (also known as chapati).
- Flour. Roti is traditionally made from whole wheat flour, while naan is made with all-purpose flour.
- Yeast. Naan is leavened, or made with yeast, resulting in a thicker, airier bread. Roti is unleavened, or made without yeast, which brings the consistency closer to a tortilla than a puffy bread like naan or pita.
- Yogurt. Due to its yogurt and salt content, naan bread is moist and flavor-packed, while roti serves as a healthier, blank canvas for your everyday meal.
- Method. Naan is traditionally cooked in a tandoor oven or fried in a pan, while roti is often cooked on a tawa (a type of flat skillet) or over a stove griddle.
Do You Need a Tandoor Oven to Make Naan?
While tandoor oven is the traditional method for baking naan, these ovens are rarely seen in homes or restaurants. Fortunately, you don’t need a clay oven, bread machine, or any other special equipment to make great homemade naan. A good cast iron skillet or frying pan will allow the naan to puff up nicely. As for mixing the dough, a stand mixer will make the kneading go faster, but you can just as easily use your hands.
5 Indian Dishes to Eat With Naan
Naan bread is a perfect vehicle for just about every dish in the Indian culinary canon. Try it with:
- Palak paneer: A vegetarian dish of paneer (an Indian cheese) served in a sauce of spinach, garlic, and spices.
- Butter chicken: A mild but hearty dish of tandoori chicken in a tangy, velvety tomato paste or tomato sauce.
- Chana masala: A vegetarian stew featuring chickpeas cooked in a fragrant and spicy tomato sauce spiced with garam masala.
- Chicken tikka masala: One of the United Kingdom's most popular dishes, this consists of marinated chunks of chicken roasted and simmered in a creamy curry sauce.
- Aloo gobi: Also vegetarian, aloo gobi calls for potatoes and cauliflower cooked with onions, tomatoes, and spices.
4 Tips for Making Naan
Here are a few tips and techniques to help you make the best naan at home.
- Don’t leave out the yogurt. Naan gets its pleasing, chewy texture from the addition of full-fat yogurt. Without it, your finished naan won’t have the proper consistency.
- Allow the dough to rise. Before cooking your naan, make sure you leave your dough to rise for at least an hour in a warm spot. The warmer the location, the faster the naan dough will rise. You’ll be rewarded with big, airy pockets.
- Cook over high heat. Traditional tandoor ovens get exceptionally hot, resulting in naan that’s soft and bubbly inside and charred outside. To replicate this, cook your naan quickly in a hot skillet.
- Try garlic naan or onion naan. Give your plain naan an added kick by brushing on a topping of ghee mixed with minced garlic or caramelized onions.
Easy Homemade Naan Bread Recipe
Prep Time1 hr 30 min
Total Time1 hr 50 min
Cook Time20 min
- 1 packet active dry yeast
- ½ cup lukewarm water
- 1 tsp sugar
- 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour or bread flour
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 cup plain yogurt, preferably full fat
- Vegetable oil or ghee for frying
- Melted butter or ghee for brushing
- ½ cup cilantro, rough chopped
- In a small bowl, combine the yeast, sugar, and warm water. Stir gently with a wooden spoon until yeast has dissolved completely.
- In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the flour and salt. Add the yeast mixture and yogurt to the dry ingredients.
- Knead until dough starts to come together into a shaggy dough ball. If using the stand mixer, mix on medium speed for a few minutes.
- Lightly grease the bowl with oil or ghee, and return dough to the bowl, turning once to coat. Cover with a clean kitchen towel, and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
- Punch down dough and remove from bowl. Divide the dough into 8-10 equal pieces, and cover again with towel.
- On a lightly floured surface, using your hands or a rolling pin, stretch pieces into ½ inch thick rounds or ovals.
- Heat a cast iron skillet on your stove top until hot. Toss in 1 tsp of ghee to grease the pan, then cook on one side until golden brown and large bubbles form in the dough. Flip and cook for another 2-3 minutes on the other side.
- Meanwhile, melt 3 tbsp ghee or unsalted butter in a microwave-safe bowl; add chopped cilantro.
- Remove, brush with melted ghee or butter on one side. Keep finished naan covered with a dish towel to keep warm while you work through the rest.
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