Naan—warm, round, flat, its surface bubbled to perfection. A bread so simple and yet so profoundly scrumptious. The perfect accompaniment to a delicious South Asian meal. Like so many unassuming, but integral dietary staples, naan has an ancient history. Today we bring you a recipe for a modern, homemade, vegan naan and the history behind this ancient comfort food.
Although naan is now eaten all over the world and is often associated with South Asian cuisine in general, it is originally from India. The first mention of naan in recorded history is from 1300 CE. The poet Amir Kushrau wrote in his notes that naan-e-tunuk (light bread) andnaan-e-tanuri (cooked in a tandoor oven) was cooked at the Imperial Court in Delhi. Yeast, one of naan’s main components, was brought to India from Egypt and thus was expensive to obtain. For that reason, naan was mainly found in richer households and was, for many centuries, associated with royalty. During the Mughal era (circa 1526 CE), naan served with keema or kebab was a popular breakfast meal in the palace.
Although naan was reserved for the wealthy, it did spur the invention of other traditional Indian breads such as roti and kulcha, both of which are very similar to naan, but do not include yeast.
Naan, as well as its cousins roti and kulcha, became popular across South Asia because of their versatility and use in making many different types of meals. The breads could be stuffed and ingredients rolled up inside to create a quick meal. Other ingredients could be mixed in to make the final product sweet or savory. The breads could be dipped in stews, soups, curries and more.
Traditionally, naan was cooked in a tandoor oven, a type of clay oven that has existed for over 9,000 years. Today, it is often made on a range stovetop or on a baking sheet in a modern oven. There are many recipes available, such as garlic naan, paleo naan and even a naan made in the microwave. The recipe below is a vegan version of the doughy deliciousness. With so many options, there’s no excuse for not indulging in this ancient bread!
Recipe courtesy of PETA
*Makes 6 servings
- 1 teaspoon of active dry yeast (1/2 package)
- 1/2 cup of warm water
- 1 tablespoon of sugar
- 3 tablespoons of soy milk
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1 3/4-2 cups of bread flour
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in warm water. Let stand about ten minutes, until frothy.
- Stir in the sugar, soy milk, salt and enough flour to make a soft dough, between 1 3/4 to 2 cups.
- Knead for six to eight minutes on a lightly floured surface or until smooth. Place in a well-oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and set aside to rise. Let it rise 1 hour, until the dough has doubled in volume.
- Punch down the dough, then roll into golf ball-size pieces and place on a baking sheet. Cover with a towel and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.
- Preheat a pan to high heat and lightly oil. Roll each ball of dough into a thin circle, then add to pan one at a time. Cook for two to three minutes, or until bubbles begin to brown and brush the top side with additional oil. Flip the bread and cook for two to three minutes on the other side. Continue until all the bread is cooked.
 Gopal, S. (2011, February 21). History of the Naan. Retrieved February 5, 2015.
 Dash, M. (n.d.). Food Story: How Naan and Kulcha became India’s much-loved breads. Retrieved February 5, 2015.