I looooove bread. I love bread a lot. I think I might even love bread on an Oprah Winfrey-type level. And I’m not kidding when I say that one of the reasons that I’m MOST excited to cook the world is so that I can experiment with (idk, hopefully?) 196 different kinds of bread. Wouldn’t that be amazing?
So of course, when Afghanistan rolled around, bread HAD to be on the menu. Bread in Afghanistan is called naan and there are a few different kinds. As I mentioned in my Afghanistan intro post, Hafizullah Emadi, the author of Culture and Customs of Afghanistan, says that naan is probably the single most important food in all of Afghanistan. It’s treated almost religiously, as a gift from God.
As I was cooking, I kept hoping that my own homemade Afghan naan bread might reach the same divine status that authentic Afghan naan is allotted. It was good, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t think it was GREAT. The flavor of the bread was on point, and it definitely served its purpose on the dinner table– the bread is a vessel to get pretty much everything else on the plate into your mouth. It was, however, a little dense for what I had expected from Afghan naan.
Before I go any further, I want to let you know that I don’t want this blog to be like most of the food blogs out in the blogosphere. Most bloggers create a recipe once or twice a week and then share that recipe in a post. I WISH that this was something I could do. However, as someone that’s never eaten Afghan food before (let alone food from Kyrgystan or Brunei), I would feel like an imposter trying to create and share recipes from each country with you. I’m not a culinary expert on every country in the world, and I’m not a master chef by any means. In fact, I’m probably on the same level as most of you… but I want to improve, and I want to learn.
Instead of making up my own recipes, I want to take recipes from the experts and focus on sharing my learning experience with you all. I want you to follow along, try it out with me, and share with me what YOU learned from the experience. By the end, maybe I’ll be able to say that I AM a culinary expert on every country. But you have to start somewhere, so that somewhere for me has to come from someone else’s Afghan naan recipe.
BACK TO THE AFGHAN NAAN
Some very high-tech, advanced research (AKA a google search) informed me that, most likely, my bread was dense because I didn’t knead it for long enough. Kneading bread dough activates and develops the gluten within the bread. The longer you knead, the more light and airy your bread will be.
So, if you decide to make this bread, learn from my mistake. Knead that darn bread like there’s no tomorrow! Knead for longer than the recommended 20 minutes! And then give that baby ample time to rise.
I want my bread to be perfect, but this bread wasn’t quuuuiiiiite there yet. The good news is, I love to bake, so I’ll be in the kitchen working to perfect this recipe. When I do, I’ll let you know the special secret! Until then, I’ll share the recipe that I followed with some additional notes that I’ve collected from my experience. Try it out! Maybe your Afghan naan will reach that divine status I’ve been searching for. Let me know in the comments below!
Afghan Naan Bread
Classic Afghan whole-wheat bread.
- 2 tsp activate dried yeast
- 3 cups whole-wheat flour (1 lb or 450 grams)
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- oil for shaping
Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup (60 ml or 2 fl oz) warm water
Put flours and salt in a mixing bowl and stir well with a balloon whisk. Remove about 1 cup (150 g or 5 oz.) of the flour and set aside.
Add 1 3/4 cups (440 ml or 15 fl oz) of warm water to the yeast mixture and pour into the centre of the flour.
Stir a little flour into the liquid to thicken it slightly, cover the bowl, and leave it in a warm place for 10 minutes or until the liquid is frothy.
Stir in the remaining flour, then knead by hand for 25 minutes gradually kneading in the reserved flour towards the end of the time (or 15 minutes using an electric mixer). (I beat for about 20 minutes, and it was not long enough, so I have upped the time in my instructions).
Cover the bowl and leave the dough in a warm place to rise until it has doubled in size, about 30 minutes to an hour (air on the side of an hour).
Preheat the oven to 430 degrees F. With oiled hands, divide the dough into 8 equal portions, then roll into balls.
Press the ball into a tear shape about 1/2 inch thick. Place the shaped loaves on baking trays, cover with cloths, and leave for 15 minutes.
Dip a finger in oil and then use a finger to press three parallel grooves into each loaf that run from the top of the dough to the bottom. The one in the middle will be the longest.
Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 15 minutes or until loaves are lightly browned and cooked. Wrap in a cloth as they come out of the oven. Enjoy!
Recipe adapted from The Complete Middle Eastern Cookbook by Tess Mallos.