Sunday, June 27, 2010

ConFusion Cuisine, And A Naanwich.

I'd like to think I err on the side of being a starry-eyed, dreamy sort of person. I've got a relatively romantic world view and somehow, I've managed to hold on to some of my childhood assumptions about life; that people are inherently good, nature is worth gazing at appreciatively, and love is just about all you need, next to a steady paycheck.

But there is a pragmatic side to me as well that often launches spitballs at the Romantic Me. Pragmatic Me can see that the world, for all its sherbet-coloured sunsets and Jane Goodalls, is still filled with bad ideas and volatile combinations. Like Iran and uranium stockpiling. G20 protesters and a legitimate space for protesting. Cocaine and just about anyone. Keanu Reeves and a dramatic script.

And who could forget about this travesty - the Sneaker-Heel:

(Side note: I'm sorry if any of you have a pair of these and feel attractive and whimsical in them. I don't want to take that away from you.)

But I understand why mistakes are made. Because figuring out magical combinations is just so hard and subject to grave errors in judgement! It's why pencils come with erasers. It's why marriages have pre-nuptial agreements. And it's why cooks, amateur and professional alike, have compost bins. But what do you do when you're cursed with a roaming, reckless, creative nature? How do you limit yourself to the confines of a recipe?

Well, you turn to fusion cooking. While controversial for its cultural appropriation and its toying with the idea of regional authenticity, fusion cooking can be the saving grace of new, overstimulated cooks like myself. It provides a 'politically correct-free' zone in which to play with international cuisines. And make the many mistakes that need to be made before one feels truly competent in the kitchen, as long as you're unafraid to make them.

Since purchasing my Madhur Jaffrey cookbook, I'd been wanting to make some naan bread. I read and re-read the recipe; for so few ingredients, it sure seemed like a complicated process. But I'd bookmarked it and I was feeling adventurous enough, so I rolled up my sleeves, forgot to put on my apron, and set to work.

The recipe called for hand kneading. But why would I do that when I have my trusty KitchenAid Stand Mixer in Cobalt Blue? It also called for a rather intensive session with a skillet; I decided instead to use the barbeque to grill the naans. Already, I feared I'd compromised authenticity. But I stopped really caring, after I'd dusted all the flour off my shirt and shorts and stood out in the thunderstorm, grilling and praying that the lightning wouldn't use my metal barbeque flipper as a conductor. It was working, my way.

But after the success of grilling the naans, here was a new challenge. What do I do with them? I didn't actually feel like making a curry or anything remotely Spice Trail-ish to go with them. I spent a long time worrying about my food matching abilities. So long, in fact, that I started getting irritably hungry. So I took a leap. I cut up some deliciously ripe avocado;

And added it to a bowl of chopped green pepper and green onions, with a heap of mint and cilantro and a smoky, spicy vinaigrette.

I cooked up some chicken bacon and cut a few slices of old cheddar;

Then I grilled the whole thing in my George Forman. And my naanwich was born.

Who cares if its cultural origins are blurred!?! Isn't food one of the loveliest ways to bridge the racial and regional divides between us, within our multicultural societies? Whatever the answers, this was without a doubt one of the most sublime-tasting risks I've ever taken in the kitchen.
Several piles of napkins later, (it was rather messy to eat - the sign of a great sandwich) I settled into my reading chair with a book and mused that I knew of far more winning combinations than faulty ones. A mug of coffee taken with the dawn. Chocolate and peanut butter. A glass of wine on the back deck and my husband. A rainy night with a duvet and a foreign film. My mother and father - a love that has spanned time and tragedy.

Pragmatic Me was humbled, and momentarily ceased with the spitballs.

Naan Bread, from Madhur Jaffrey's cookbook 'From Curries To Kebabs; Recipes From The Indian Spice Trail':

About 5 cups of all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp plain yogurt
1 cup milk
1 egg
1 tbsp melted butter, plus more melted butter or oil for brushing the bread prior to grilling
1 cup water

Directions: (Using stand mixer - this can also be made with a wooden spoon and a strong arm)

1. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl.

2. Put the sugar and yogurt in the mixing bowl and beat. Add the milk and 1 cup of water and continue beating. Now beat in about 2 cups of flour, a little at a time - if using a stand mixer, change the whisk attachment to the dough hook. Beat thoroughly, to encourage gluten to work (about a hundred strokes, if using a wooden spoon) The batter should be a little pasty. Add the egg and 1 tbsp melted butter and continue beating. Now slowly add another 2-3 cups of flour, still continuing to beat. By the end of this, you should have a very elastic dough - if not, add a bit more flour till you do.

3. Empty the dough onto a floured board and knead briefly with oiled hands. Divide the dough into 8 balls. Dust a baking tray (I had to use several) with flour and place the dough balls on it, spaced well apart. Press down on each ball to flatten, cover in plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes or longer.

4. If using a barbeque, heat it up and get a cookie sheet or a cooling rack and place on top of the grill. Close the lid and let it get really hot.

5. Get the dough balls and shape them into longer flatbread shapes - you may need to flour your hands; they'll be sticky. Brush melted butter on one side and place it, butter side down, on the cooling rack or cookie sheet. Do this with as many as you can fit on at one time. Cook them till bubbles start forming on top of the naans; then brush with more butter and flip over, cooking till firm. At this stage, you can place them directly on the grill of the barbeque for char marks. Once all of them have been cooked, keep them warm in some foil till ready to serve.

Moni's Naanwich filling: (enough for 2 naanwiches)

1/2 ripe avocado, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped finely
2 green onions, chopped finely
a heap of fresh mint, finely chopped
a heap of fresh cilantro, finely chopped
zest of 1 lime, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste


1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
juice of 1 lime
splash of white balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp chili flakes

Directions: Combine all the vegetables in one bowl. Assemble the dressing, whisk till well combined, then pour over veggies till well coated.


  1. This was an inspiring post. And my mouth is watering. Seriously.

  2. Thank you JRA! Your comment made my day much sweeter!

  3. hi there,
    just discovered your blog and i love it! your writing is so sincere and engaging. :) and this naan looks great -- i tried once.. didn't work, but this sandwich is making me want to try again!

  4. Thank you so much for your lovely comments, Leslie; I'm so pleased you like my blog!

    The naan - time consuming, yes. But so worth it!