Breads in India are mostly flatbreads. It’s the way they’re cooked or the type of flour used to make them that determines what they are called. Naan is a popular variety of Indian leavened bread made with wheat flour maida (just an Indian name for all-purpose flour) and cooked traditionally in a clay oven.
Before getting too deep into the air pockets of this soft pillowy bread, I’d like to clarify something. Naan is bread, just like chai is tea. So calling it chai tea or naan bread is like calling a drink tea tea, or the bread, bread bread. So, let’s drop the "bread" and just call it "naan"!
How to Make the Dough
To make naan traditionally, a wheat flour dough is prepared and allowed to rise either using yeast, or by the addition of yogurt to the dough. For this recipe, I use both.
Mixing flour with water and kneading the dough activates the gluten in the wheat flour, making the dough stretchy and the finished bread chewy. The addition of yeast helps the bread rise and yogurt helps with fermentation and improves the flavor.
For this recipe, I have prepared a dough very similar to that of a pizza dough. Lukewarm milk, yogurt, yeast, and other ingredients are mixed to a dough. The dough is then set aside to rise. Once the dough has risen twice, it is then cut into portions and rolled flat before cooking.
I've written the recipe to use active dry yeast, but feel free to use instant if that's what you have on hand. If using active dry yeast, first bloom the yeast in lukewarm milk to activate it. Let it sit for 5 minutes, then add the milk-and-yeast mixture to the flour with the rest of the ingredients. If using instant yeast, just add it to the flour mixture directly—no blooming required!
Traditional Naan in a Tandoor
Traditionally, this twice risen dough is cooked in an Indian oven, called a tandoor.
A tandoor is a cylindrical Indian clay oven widely used across Southeast and Central Asia. Wood or charcoal is placed at the bottom of the tandoor, which heats up all the sides of the cylinder. The unique shape allows the food to be cooked from all the sides at the same time, giving it a unique char and a delicious earthy flavor.
To cook naan, the flattened raw dough is brushed with water on one side and then stuck to the side of a tandoor oven. Once completely cooked, naan falls off the wall which is then picked with a tong and then served hot.
How to Cook Naan Without a Tandoor
It is difficult to make a tandoor style oven at home, so home cooks have come up with all kinds of bright ideas—the absence of a tandoor won’t keep Indians from their naan!
In my recipe here, I used a skillet or a cooking pan with a lid to cook the naan. I personally use a cast iron skillet and a lid to cover the skillet when the naan is cooking.
My mum always used a pressure cooker to make hers. She would heat an empty pressure cooker with the lid on, and once it was hot, she would stick the naan to the side wall of the pressure cooker, put the lid back on for a few seconds and then cook the exposed side on the flame.
Feel free to use any of these cooking tools.
Variations on Naan
To add variations to a basic naan recipe, you can sprinkle some kind of “topping” onto the naan. Here are a few ideas:
- Cumin seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Nigella seeds
- Minced onion, garlic, or both
You can also just make plain naan and brush some butter on the bread after it’s cooked.
Can You Make the Dough Ahead of Time?
I don’t recommend keeping raw naan dough for more than a day or two or it can go bad.
How to Store and Reheat Naan
Cooked naan can be refrigerated for 3 to 5 days if stored in a zip-top bag in the refrigerator section. Just reheat it in the microwave wrapped in a damp paper towel and it will be good as new.
You can also freeze the naan, wrapped individually or between layers of parchment paper. Place them in ziptop bags or a freezer safe container and freeze up two months.
Reheat in the oven at 350°F for five minutes, or microwave on high for one minute, when ready to eat.
Want More Great Indian Recipes? Try These!
How to Make Naan
- 1 cup lukewarm milk
- 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 4 cups all-purpose flour + extra for dusting
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil or canola oil + extra for greasing the bowl
- 1/2 cup plain yogurt
Prepare a bowl
Lightly grease a large bowl with a little bit of oil. You will put your dough in this bowl to let it rise. Set the bowl aside.
Prepare the dough
In a Pyrex liquid measuring cup or a small mixing bowl, combine the lukewarm milk, sugar, and active dry yeast. The milk should be just warm to the touch. If it’s too hot you can kill the yeast. Let it sit for 5 minutes.
In another large mixing bowl, whisk the flour and salt together. Add yogurt, oil and milk-yeast mixture. Use a wooden spoon or your hands to combine the dough. The dough should be soft and sticky at this point.
Knead the dough
Dust your countertop with flour. Transfer the dough to the counter. Knead together until a soft dough forms, about 5 minutes. If the dough feels dry and is too tough to knead, add about 1-2 tablespoons of water, a little bit at a time, until the dough is easier to work with.
Let the dough rise
Transfer the dough to the greased bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Place in a dark, warm, dry place. I place it in my oven (it’s not on) to let it rise, but your countertop is fine. Let the dough rise for 3-4 hours or until it more than doubles in size.
Punch down the dough and let it rise again
Punch the risen dough down. Knead for another minute. Return the dough to the bowl, cover it again and let it rise for another 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Divide the dough
Dust your countertop with flour. Turn the dough out onto the counter and knead it for another minute or two until its smooth. Divide the dough into 16 smaller balls of equal size (about 2 ounces each).
Using a rolling pin, roll the balls into a teardrop shape. About 2-3 inches wide, 6-7 inches long, and about 1/8 inch thick. They don’t have to be perfectly uniform.
Cook the naan
If using herbs or spices, sprinkle one side of the bread with those now. Brush the other side with water. Set a medium-sized heavy pan or cast iron skillet with a lid over medium-high heat.
Check the heat of the pan by flicking water on it. If it evaporates on contact, it’s ready. Once the pan is hot, place the naan wet side down into the skillet.
Cover it with a lid. Let it cook for about 30 seconds or until you see bubbles on it. Flip the naan, brush it with butter or ghee, and cook it uncovered for another 10 seconds. Serve it hot.