Following on from last week’s blog post, we’ve recently been going through a spicy phase at our house. We love curry, which is a good thing because for the past week we’ve been eating it most days whilst I tried to figure out how to make the perfect grain-free naan bread accompaniment. Happily (actually I am ecstatic!), Primal Plate has cracked the code for a grain-free naan bread that looks and tastes as close to an authentic Indian flatbread as you can get, without using traditional ingredients.
I had to go from memory when developing this recipe because with rice, legumes and grains all off-limits, I’ve not eaten out at an Indian restaurant or had an Indian ‘take-away’, for a very long time. I always remember the best naan being soft, chewy and subtly sweet, so my first thoughts turned to tiger nut flour, which I knew would give my naan a slight sweetness, without adding sugar.
Traditionally, naan is made from plain wheat flour and leavened with yeast before baking. To get the taste, smell and texture of traditional naan it seemed important that the raising agent for my naan was also yeast, although I wasn’t certain whether this was a Paleo/Primal-approved ingredient or not. Consulting Mark’s Daily Apple, I discovered that if you drink wine or beer, the type of yeast used to make both is the same as the yeast used for bread making. And, assuming you’re not yeast sensitive, there are some nutritional benefits to eating it, especially if you avoid animal products. As a primal, vegetarian wine drinker, I concluded yeast was good to go!
For the rest of the recipe I got my inspiration from the queen of Indian cuisine, Madhu Jaffrey. However, when refined wheat flour, the primary ingredient of naan bread isn’t an option, I had to find alternative ingredients and put them together in just the right amounts so that my naan bread would look and taste like the real deal.
To be honest, my first attempt included a high proportion of green banana flour (a brilliant source of resistant starch, which is one of the best foods to feed our good gut bacteria) but it turned out almost exactly like wholewheat pitta bread instead (another recipe for another day). For naan, I wanted it to be altogether softer and fluffier.
Substituting ground almonds for banana flour and changing the ratio of ingredients finally did the trick. The virtually no-need-to-knead dough rose better (doubled in size at the first proving), looked like I’d used plain flour rather than whole-wheat (more naan-like) and had the desired soft, fluffy texture I was looking for.
It was another ‘Eureka!” moment in my Primal cook’s career. I am still totally amazed that each new recipe I attempt to develop with the same handful of ingredients - albeit in differing amounts - can be transformed into an endless variety of grain-free, refined sugar-free cakes, breads, biscuits, scones and pancakes that look and taste no different to those made with conventional ingredients like wheat flour and sugar.
If you're trying to lose weight and eat low-carb please be aware that these naan are extremely moreish! They’re lovely as an occasional treat, but don’t go overboard. Although a well known supermarket’s plain naan has 50% more grams of carbohydrate than Primal Plate’s naan bread, I have in fact gained 2 pounds this week, which I can only attribute to multiple testing of this recipe. It was worth it!
PRIMAL NAAN BREAD (Makes 3 decent-sized naan)
75ml hand hot milk
1 tsp raw organic liquid honey
5g (about 1 heaped tsp) dried active yeast
150g tapioca flour
20g coconut flour
30g tiger nut flour
1½ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp xanthan gum
50g ground almonds
½ tsp tsp sea salt
1 tbsp olive oil + ¼ tsp for greasing
50ml yogurt, beaten
1 medium egg, lightly beaten
1 tbsp butter or ghee, melted - for brushing
Gently warm 75ml milk to ‘blood’ temperature with the honey. Put the milk/honey in a bowl. Add the yeast. Stir to mix. Set aside for 15-20 minutes or until the yeast has dissolved and the mixture is frothy.
Meanwhile, sift the tapioca, coconut, tiger nut flours, baking powder and xanthan gum into a large bowl. Add the ground almonds and sea salt and make a well in the centre.
In a separate bowl, combine the beaten egg, olive oil and yogurt, then pour it into the well, along with the bubbling yeast mixture. Gradually bring the mixture together with a fork then gently knead with your hand for a few minutes until it forms a soft, smooth ball of dough.
Pour ¼ tsp oil into a medium/large bowl and roll the ball of dough in it. Cover the bowl with cling film and set aside for 1-1½ hours in a warmish place until doubled in size. (I heat my oven to 40℃, then switch it off and put the covered bowl of dough in the closed oven to prove).
Tip the proofed dough out of the bowl onto a work surface then briefly knead again. Divide the dough into three equal balls. Lightly cover with cling film and set aside whilst you melt the butter or ghee in a small saucepan over a low heat.
Heat a heavy non-stick frying pan over a high heat for 5 minutes or so and put the oven on low.
Meanwhile, gently flatten each of the balls between two sheets of cling film then lightly roll or press into a tear-shaped naan, about 25cm long and 13cm wide at its widest point and slightly thicker around the edge. Keep lightly covered until you’re ready to cook them.
Put the naan into the hot frying pan (no oil is needed) and cook until it starts to puff up and is tinged brown in patches (about 1-2 minutes), then using a flat bladed spatula flip the naan over and cook the other side until that too is patched with brown (another 1-2 minutes). Turn it back over one final time and cook for about another 30 seconds or so until cooked through and there are no doughy bits remaining.
Brush the cooked naan with the melted butter or ghee and put in the warm oven whilst you make the other flatbread(s). Serve with curry.
If the dough seems too sticky when you’re trying to knead it, add more tapioca flour - a very little at a time - only just enough so that the dough leaves the sides of the bowl and isn’t sticking to your fingers.
You may have guessed that I regularly cook for three people (hence a recipe for three naan). For a family of four or more, simply double the ingredients to make six. Alternatively, divide the existing dough recipe into four balls to make the finished naan smaller.
We struggled trying to determine the best and simplest way to cook the naan - or at least that was our excuse to keep taste-testing them! As well as cooking them on top of the hob, they can be baked in a super-hot oven for 5 minutes. Firstly, pre-heat a heavy baking sheet in an oven set to its highest temperature. Literally, ’slap’ each prepared naan down onto the hot baking sheet. It will puff up. Bake for 2½ minutes then turn over and continue cooking for a further 2-2½ minutes. Wrap each naan in a clean tea-towel and keep warm whilst you make the rest in the same way.
Naan bread cooked in the oven will turn out more evenly golden but not quite as soft and chewy as when cooked on top of the stove in a frying pan. We finally all agreed that the pan-cooked ones had the ‘edge’ i.e. looked and tasted the most authentic.
Carbohydrate 52g Protein 8g - per serving