I have so much more respect for the bakers in the tent after attempting this challenge! Not only did they have to make two different kinds of flatbreads (one with yeast and one without), they also had to make them both within 2½ hours! While I didn’t time myself, I did attempt to make both types of bread (sort of) simultaneously, with limited success, at best. I hope you do better than I did!
First, I did some research about flatbreads, and learned a lot about the different kinds, especially Indian flatbreads, since they seem to have quite a variety, from naan to roti, chapati to paratha, to name just a few. I chose to make naan–because that’s always been my favorite whenever we eat at Indian restaurants–and paratha. Paratha, I learned, comes in several different styles. Some are as flat as tortillas, round and usually made of whole wheat flour. Others are soft and flaky because the dough is layered with oil or ghee and folded repeatedly as it is rolled out, much like the laminating technique used for making puff pastry. Stuffed parathas are rolled flat, then folded around a soft filling and pressed flat again before being cooked on a flat surface, like a frying pan or tava.
Because I want to try creating new flavor combinations, I decided to stuff my parathas with the flavors from my favorite vegetarian chili—sweet potatoes, black beans and spices. I found a recipe for aloo paratha, which is stuffed with a traditional potato and pea mixture, and adapted it to my chili ingredients: cooking and mashing the sweet potatoes and mixing them with black beans, chipotle chili powder, cumin, turmeric and a little bit of cinnamon.
Following the recipe to make the dough, I mixed whole wheat flour, ghee (If you don’t know what that is, you really should check it out.) and salt with a little bit of warm water to make a soft dough.
I found a helpful video explaining how to stuff and roll out parathas on TheSpruceEats.com (Scroll down; it’s near the bottom of the page.), but the method described in the aloo paratha recipe actually worked better for me. Basically it comes down to whether you prefer to fold the edges over on themselves or pinch the dough together to form a ball before rolling it out. For me, folding worked better than pinching.
In the end, I’m not sure I did it right, because if I flattened them too much the stuffing started oozing out all over the place. So I was only able to flatten them so much before frying them on a hot griddle. Brushing them with ghee while they were cooking, though, made them smell sooooo good that I couldn’t wait to taste them!
Meanwhile, I had already started my naan dough, since it had to rise for an hour or more before it could be shaped and baked. Although most recipes call for cooking naan in a cast iron pan or directly over a gas flame (unless you happen to have a tandoor handy), I decided to try baking mine on a pizza stone in a hot (500 degree) oven, partly because I don’t have a gas stove but also because I was already cooking the parathas on the stovetop.
I decided to keep my naan simple, so I went with a basic dough recipe and topped it with roasted garlic and cilantro. Roasting the garlic was fun, and it made the house smell wonderful! I used the basic directions found on SimplyRecipes.com, which also has a helpful video on it.
The naan turned out to be trickier than I thought. While it worked out well through the first rise, what I didn’t realize is that you shouldn’t flatten the dough until you’re ready to cook it. My pizza stone would only hold two or three pieces at a time, so I divided my dough into eight small balls and flattened them, leaving them on wax paper until I was ready to bake them. Little did I know the dough would stick to the wax paper, so when I tried to peel them off they left half the dough behind! Not only that, but the dough stuck to itself, so my nice neat ovals became kind of like shriveled, stuck-together blobs! I did my best to repair them before throwing them on the hot stone in the oven, but they didn’t look much like the thick, bubbly naan I get at my favorite Indian restaurant!
Although I finished them off under the broiler (and tried a couple in the frying pan) to try and get the blackened spots you would find on traditionally cooked naan, I wasn’t too successful—though they did get nicely golden brown around the edges.
After brushing them with ghee, roasted garlic and chopped cilantro, however, I must admit they tasted pretty good and even had the familiar stretchy, tearable texture that I’m used to in naan. The problem was that they were smaller than what you would expect, and I’m afraid Paul Hollywood would have been disappointed!
If I had it to do over again, I might try a different recipe, like maybe this one, from which I borrowed the instructions for cooking them in the oven. (It looks like it would make larger, fluffier naan.) I would also add more salt to the dough, and I would definitely keep the dough in balls under a damp cloth until right before I’m ready to bake them.
I did enjoy the parathas and thought the flavor combination worked. They taste a little bit like a whole wheat tortilla, and the filling made it a substantial, wholesome snack. I want to go back to my local Indian grocery store where I bought my ghee and buy some frozen stuffed parathas to see how mine stack up!
- 2 c. whole wheat flour, plus some for dusting
- 2 T. ghee or vegetable oil
- 1 t. salt
- ¾ c. warm water (or slightly less)
- 2 sweet potatoes, peeled, boiled and mashed
- ¼ c. black beans
- ½ t. cumin
- ¼ t. chipotle chili powder
- ¼ t. turmeric
- ¼ t. salt
- ¼ t. smoked chipotle Tabasco sauce
- 1/8 t. cinnamon
- In large mixer bowl, combine the whole wheat flour, salt and ghee or oil. Slowly add water while mixing on low until a soft dough forms. Cover with a damp cloth and let the dough rest for about 5 minutes.
- Mix together all the stuffing ingredients. Adjust seasonings to taste. Divide into 10 balls and refrigerate while forming dough.
- Knead the dough again for another 5 minutes until it is soft and smooth. Divide into 10 balls of about 2-3 inches in diameter.
- Heat a flat pan on medium heat.
- Take one dough ball and roll it into a small circle. Place a ball of stuffing in the center of the circle, and fold the dough in to cover the filling. (If the balls of stuffing are too big, take only what will fit in the center of the circle. You’ll need enough dough to overlap when you fold it over.) Dust the dough with a little flour, and roll it out again into a 6- to 7-inch-diameter circle.
- Place the rolled paratha onto the hot pan, and let it cook for about a minute. Flip it over, spread some ghee on the partly cooked side and flip it back again. Using a flat spatula, press down on the paratha until it is cooked well. (If you lift it up, you should see brown spots on the cooked side.)
- Spread ghee on the second side, flip it over and cook the same way.
- Serve hot, or store in airtight container in refrigerator. When ready to serve, wrap in a damp paper towel and microwave for 20-30 seconds.
Garlic & Cilantro Naan
- ½ c. warm water
- 1 t. sugar
- 1 packet (¼ oz.) dry yeast
- ½ c. plain yogurt, lukewarm
- 1 T. oil
- 2¼ c. all-purpose flour
- 1 t. salt
- 3 T. ghee
- Roasted garlic, smashed
- Chopped cilantro
- Coarse salt (optional)
- In a mixer bowl, stir together water, sugar and yeast. Let sit for 5-10 minutes or until yeast is bubbly and foamy. Add yogurt (I put mine in the microwave on Defrost for a few seconds to warm it up.) and oil, and mix gently. Add flour and salt and mix until combined, forming a soft dough.
- Transfer dough to a flat, lightly floured surface. (Here’s where you can add the roasted garlic and knead it into the dough, if you like. I forgot, so I just added mine to the ghee that I brushed on at the end.) Knead the dough for a few minutes until it is smooth and shiny. Move it to a greased bowl, cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
- Once the dough is risen, transfer it back to a flat surface, punch it down slightly to release excess air, and divide it into 8 equal portions. Roll them each into a small ball and cover with a damp cloth to rest for another 10-15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, put a pizza stone on the top oven rack placed in the highest position, and turn oven on to 500°F. Let stone preheat with the oven.
- On the stovetop or in a microwaveable bowl, melt the ghee, then add the garlic (if not mixed into the dough) and cilantro.
- When the oven is hot and you are ready to start baking the naan, take one piece at a time and gently roll it into a circle or rectangle. Do not press down too hard. You are basically trying to stretch it more than flatten it. If dough is too sticky, add a little oil to the surface and to your rolling pin.
- Working with 2 or 3 pieces at a time, place naan on the pizza stone and leave in the oven for 4-5 minutes, until golden brown. Flip over and bake on the other side till lightly browned. Remove from oven and bake the rest of the naan the same way, 2 or 3 at a time. Brush them with the melted ghee and, if desired, return to the pizza stone and place under the oven broiler for a few seconds to a minute to achieve a darker brown. Brush with more melted ghee and sprinkle with coarse salt to taste.