Naan you say? Vegan you say? But of course! In fact there are traditional versions of naan bread out there that are vegan naturally.
Whilst it appears in many forms all over the Middle East and central / south Asia, we are most familiar with it in the yoghurt and ghee laced Indian form (particular here in the UK). But as London continues to open to the world and it's plethora of delicious cuisines, we are starting to see more different national variations on this typically Indian staple.
For example, the Afghan naan in our favourite Middle Eastern grocer in Shepherd's Bush is our go-to flatbread if we're too lazy to make it ourselves - it's just flour, water, salt and yeast. Still light and fluffy, but quite different to the Indian version.
People often get put off making bread as it seems overly involved and time consuming.. no knead to worry! Rather than beating the dough into submission by hand or with a mixer, I prefer to use a more delicate method known as stretching and folding or 'no knead' bread. All you need to do is give the dough a little encouragement by folding it every 20-30 mins once you've mixed it. It will turn from a shaggy mess into a smooth, pillowy dough full of air pockets and super light.. with hardly any effort at all!
I would have cooked the breads on our Big Green Egg BBQ but London in winter doesn't really lend itself to al fresco cooking so that will have to wait until it stops raining! You could also cook these in a super hot oven (unless you have a sneaky tandoor oven lurking around) but a frying pan works really well.
This recipe is based on the familiar Indian classic, and the replacement of dairy with a coconut-based alternative is the perfect flavour for an Indian bread. All that's required is the magic of coconut yoghurt and a little self-restraint where the butter / ghee is concerned.
Recipe (Makes 6)
1 tsp quick yeast
50-100ml tepid water
50ml of your choice of plant-based milk (we use coconut)
1/2 tsp unrefined / raw cane sugar
150g organic strong white flour
50g organic plain white flour
50g coconut yoghurt
1/2 tsp salt
1 tablespoon cold-pressed rapeseed oil or melted coconut oil
1. Put the yeast in a small bowl with 2 tablespoons of the tepid water and the sugar. Stir well and leave aside until it starts to froth.
2. In a separate, large bowl, mix the flour and salt together.
3. Once the yeast mix is frothy, mix in the coconut yoghurt and milk. Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour in the yeast mixture, then the oil. Using a dough scraper, start to mix the dough, adding more tepid water as required to get a sticky, soft dough. Only mix it enough to make sure there isn't any dry flour left. It will be a shaggy mess (see pics). Place in a clean, oiled bowl and cover. Leave to rest for 15 minutes.
4. Fold the dough - oil your hands and push / stretch the dough out into the bowl, and give it a rough business letter fold. Think of it in 3 sections, fold one side into the middle, then fold the other side over the top. Turn the dough so that the seam of the fold isn't exposed and cover it again, leave to rest for 20-30 minutes.
5. Repeat the folding and resting process at least twice more until you have a smooth dough - it will be light and pillowy and less sticky. You may need to do a fourth turn depending on how it gets on. After the final fold leave to rest / rise for another 20-30 minutes. Easy!
6. Divide the dough into 6 pieces - I usually just scoop them out with a scraper and then roll them into balls on a floured surface (the rolling knocks the air out of the dough anyway without needing to knock it back separately).
7. Heat your frying pan for a few minutes on a medium-high heat. You want the pan hot enough to get the bread to puff up, but not so hot it burns before it's cooked - I usually get the pan really hot and then turn it down to a medium flame when I'm ready to start cooking the breads.
8. Roll out one of the dough balls as thin as you can - as you roll you will activate the gluten and the dough will become stretchy and reluctant to thin out. Leave it for a minute or so to relax and then carry on. Once rolled pick the dough up and stretch it with your hands a bit to really get it nice and thin (a few millimetres) whilst being careful not to tear it.
9. Place the rolled dough in the hot pan and marvel as it puffs up and bubbles - flip it over and cook on the other side until you have a lovely browned bubbly surface and no wet patches of dough. Repeat for the rest of the dough and scoff immediately!
It goes perfectly with our Harir-ish Stew.