This is not Naan Bread. This is straight up sisterhood. The sisterhood of the travelling flat bread. A story of a life lesson. A lesson rolled out in a circle of dough.
One I learnt when I was just ten years old and has totally shaped the way I think about ‘giving’. Giving. Giving never depletes you. Giving will never leave you empty handed. Giving will always give you back more.
It was December ‘93 Mama was expecting her fourth child. We lived in a town near the northern city of Newcastle England and Mama was taking us to a playdate – way before anybody ever heard of the Americanism- ‘playdate’. She had made a new ‘mom-friend’ and we, my two younger sisters and I, were to go with her to her new friend’s house – where we would play with Aunty’s daughters while the mom’s did whatever mom’s do. Awesome.
Aunty Ahm. We all got big blue duppata’ed hugs. Her full name was Amtul. A smile that formed apple cheeks and a nose stud that twinkled as if in time with every smile. I might just be imagining that nose stud, some childhood memories can be so mixed up. She reminded me very much of a much loved relative in Kashmir and that made me feel as if I knew her already.
Somewhere between the many visits and play-dates, one day Mama came home with naan bread. Naan bread she had made with Aunty Ahm. I used to ask people all the time for recipes she told me later And every time they would be reluctant to share – oh it’s just a bit of this and a bit of that. Apparently not wanting to actually “divulge” anything helpful. But not Aunty Ahm –
Likhna kya? Meraay ghar aajo mai app key samney bannadu gi
‘Oh you don’t need to write it down – come over to my house and I will make them in front of you’
Mama never forgot that. She extolled to me the virtues of a generous hand. See? she said, when she would tell me the story, no pretence – just pure generosity. People think that by sharing some knowledge or a skill that they will lose out – somebody else will gain. They forget that their Rizik is written with Allah and in sharing one only increases their provisions in barakah (blessings).
I later came to know that it was a group of women – first generation migrants, brought together by their husband’s professions. They missed their families, culture and climate but most of all, Aunty Ahm told me ‘we missed our food’. Tired of the somewhat dry pitta breads found in the local stores, somebody had come up with the idea of making naan-bread at home. The recipe was passed on and on in this way and when my mother and Aunty Ahm became friends the recipe passed to Mama.
Aunty Ahm eventually left England and went back to Karachi, where she never did get to make that naan bread again, probably because there was no deficiency of naan in Karachi. But since that first time Mama learnt, she has been the one to share and teach so many others, I’ve lost count. Over the years she has been the one to make batches of them for friends who were expecting. Their children now teenagers and young adults, but the mothers still remember the generosity of time and effort represented by those 30 naan breads that got them through the first weeks of a newborn.
And so recently when Aiysha welcomed her baby, and I was on my annual summer visit to my parents house, Mama insisted that I must take her some naan bread. I figured it was about time I learnt how to make it too. (Yes until now, like so much of my Mama’s cooking, I just ate, never bothering to ask how it’s made!)
This is not naan bread. This is how Mama freezes her love and keeps it in my freezer at University. Circles of love that I break in un-even halves and pop in the toaster for breakfast, slathered in butter and a drizzle of honey. Mama’s love that I share with my best-friend over midnight gup-shup and cups of hot tea. ‘Don’t forget your mum’s naan bread’ she texts me on my weekend visits home. Years later when we meet up and reminisce about those days she still remembers. ‘Ah man! Your Mum’s naan bread!’
So roll up your sleeves and go buy that yeast already.
Mama made 30 naan at one time but I’m going to share the amounts to make approximately 12, there that sounds more doable right?
900g plain flour
4 teaspoons yeast*
300 ml milk warmed**
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons veg oil
250ml Natural Yogurt
Take a large bowl and pour in all the flour. No need to sift.
Add all the yeast to the flour. * If you use dried active yeast you will need to activate the yeast first by dissolving it into the warm milk.
Next add the yogurt, and start rubbing through with your fingers.
Mixture should be crumbly. Make a well in the middle.
* Pour the milk, in increments, into the well and start mixing into a more doughy texture. The actual amount of milk is an approximation – you basically need the milk to knead…
… so it looks like this –
Shape into a round mound and pour the oil over the top, only covering the surface. Cover the container with cling film or anything really and leave it to rise by placing the whole bowl in a warm place and leaving it for a couple of hours. Go work out or have a nap. I think nap.
When you come back you will see the dough has risen satisfactorily and what’s even more satisfying is
punching the living daylights out of kneading it.
Keep at it till the dough is super smooth like this
Roll the dough to form one long baguette shape and cut it in half to form two. then using a knife cut slices from the baguettes.
Heat up a gridle/ frying pan and set your oven on to grill/broil mode and then pretend you’re making one of those cool cooking videos and toss some flour on to the work surface like a pro.
Take one slice of the baguette and roll into a flat bread shape, brush pan with oil and put the rolled naan onto hot pan.
It should only take a few seconds for the top to start bubbling and underside to look like this
Lift and put under broiler /grill for a few more seconds until the top has turned a honey golden brown. Brushing top surface with butter/oil optional.
Tear a piece straight away for that incredible fresh soft warm bread aroma or freeze and eat later for the easiest accompaniment to anything. From frozen just break one in half and pop both halves in the toaster. Absolutely delicious dipped into hummus, yogurt, soup, Nutella(!), this. If you haven’t left chunks of naan-bread in a plate of daal or curry to be eaten in all its soaked up glory you haven’t lived, and go ahead and make this your pizza base, Naan bread pizza is a real thing.
I can’t wait to share this post with my best friend Qurat and show her I finally learnt to make it and now she can too. Please let me know if you try this and don’t forget to spread the love!