I love Indian food. I first experienced Indian food in a small restaurant in Elyria, Ohio. My friends Gitta and Heidi introduced it to me during the second semester of our freshman year at Oberlin. That semester, I managed to bring my car to campus, despite restrictions on first years having their cars at school, we began to go on “big adventures” (as they seemed in those days) into the small towns that dotted the rural Ohio landscape southwest of Cleveland. Once or twice a semester we would make it up to the big city, mostly to go to Coventry to shop, watch a movie at the cool little theater that would refrigerate your leftovers and feed your meter during the movie, and to eat some good Indian food.
I lived in Boston twice for two short periods of time (about six months in total) and continued the love affair with Indian food that I had started in college. Boston is home to some incredible Indian restaurants. I very distinctly remember taking my first spoonful of a bowl of soup in an Indian restaurant in Brookline and, for the first time, fully understanding the meaning of “layering of flavors” as a multitude of flavors exploded on my tongue, one after another. There was also an Indian restaurant in Coolidge Corner that was quite good, and another two in Harvard Square that I enjoyed, as well.
The second time that I lived in Boston, the summer just after graduation, I roomed with my friend, Liz, who had spent a life-changing semester abroad in India during college. There were several Saturdays that summer spent in the kitchen making our own Indian dishes. This was when the idea of home cooked Indian food because more accessible to me, and I began to develop a sense of how I could recreate some of these dishes on my own.
Fast forward to now. I live on an island that until recently did not have an Indian restaurant of its own. I would try to get my fill on trips to the Mainland, but Indian restaurants can sometimes be tricky for the vegan to navigate because many dishes are made with cream or yoghurt. The ones that are amenable to vegan diets are willing to mark the dairy-free items on the menu or happily point them out to you. While this makes eating in such places much less difficult, it still limits one to a few items on the otherwise expansive menu. So, over the years, I’ve amassed several Indian cookbooks and have begun to rely on what I can improvise in my own kitchen.
Last week I was feeling the urge for a full Indian spread for dinner, and for me that included naan. Naan is a leavened bread popular in North India. This bread is traditionally baked in a tandoor (clay oven). Tandoors get very hot, and it can be difficult to recreate the heat and cooking environment of a tandoor in a home kitchen. As I considered this dilemma, I remembered a book I had glanced through about vegan grilling, which contained a chapter on breads. Grills get very hot …. perhaps they could better mimic a tandoor than my oven could?
My mind was made up – I decided to bake my naan on our outdoor grill. I adapted the naan recipe in The Food of India to make a vegan version and, after letting it rise for several hours, I divided the dough into five balls and stretched them all out into small disks. I then brushed each side of the disks with canola oil, fired up the grill, and baked bread. It took, in total, less than four minutes to bake up, and it tasted fantastic. The texture was not identical to what you get in an Indian restaurant, but oh my goodness it was good. And, I must admit, it felt pretty awesome to bake bread on a grill, like I had tapped into my inner (vegan) Bobby Flay. I feel inspired to apply this newfound knowledge of grill-baking to other projects in the future!
2 ¼ cups flour
2/3 cup soy milk
1 tsp active dry yeast
¼ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
¼ cup canola oil
1 6oz container plain soy yogurt
1. Place the flour, yeast, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl.
2. Heat the soy milk in a saucepan until warm. Ina separate bowl, whisk the yogurt and oil until well combined.
3. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the milk. Stir, and then add the yogurt mixture. Mix well.
4. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Add more flour if the dough is too sticky. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover, and let rise for 2-3 hours.
5. Punch down the dough, divide into five balls, and stretch out into thin disks. Brush each side with canola oil, and stack the prepared disks on a plate. Bake the disks on a grill over medium flame/heat until the tops are puffy and the bottoms have begun to brown (about 2 minutes), flip and bake for an additional 1 ½ – 2 minutes.