race & identity and homemade wholewheat naan bread

My identity might begin with the fact of my race, but it didn’t, couldn’t end there. At least that’s what I would choose to believe. —Barack Obama

wholewheat naan | conifères & feuillusAs a visible minority living in Canada, I often get asked “Where are you from?” It doesn’t bother me in the least bit. With over four decades of living here, I still promptly reply “India”. Deep down, I know that that one word says very little about me, but I also know that it will instantly clarify the colour of my skin, my petite frame, my big brown eyes to my newest acquaintance.  Yes, I was born there, and yes, my ancestry is mostly Indian, but India itself is as diverse as there are provinces and languages spoken there, if not more. Add to that, that I grew up in Canada, I’m not certain that the statement “I’m from India” holds much meaning other than the mere fact that India will always be my birthplace.  Our lives begin with our birthplaces, and as stated so eloquently by Mr. Obama, our identity begins with our race, but we are all so much more than that, wouldn’t you agree? And if I may extend Mr. Obama’s thoughts, I would choose to believe that no matter where our identity begins, we are all much the same. None more superior than the other, none more valuable than the next.

Although naan is known the world over as the ubiquitous Indian flat bread, it is not a bread I grew up eating.  I only learned to make it in recent years because my Indian-ness also often prompts people (husband included) to ask me how to make naan bread… so I thought I’d learn and add it to my repertoire of other flat breads I make, like tortilla… and pita… and pizza… and roti.

wholewheat naan | conifères & feuillus

wholewheat naan | conifères & feuilluswholewheat naan | conifères & feuillus

NOTE: and a huge one at that, before you get disappointed. Naan bread is traditionally made in a special oven from which it inherits a charred flavour. Since my recipe calls for stove-top cooking, you can all but forget that. Secondly, I use whole wheat flour (as I always do for health reasons) which gives the risen dough the lumpy look above, and the bread, a lot less elastic-y texture compared to what you would get with ultra-refined white flour. If you want to know more about the perfect naan, there’s a nice write-up here.

Homemade Wholewheat Naan Bread (adapted from here)

(yields 8)

  • 420 g strong wholemeal bread flour
  • 2 tsp instant yeast
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 100 g yogurt
  • 30 g olive oil, plus an additional 1 tbsp
  • 1 large egg
  • about 200-230 g warm milk
  1. In a large bowl, combine flour and instant yeast, let sit 1 minute.
  2. Mix in salt, baking powder.
  3. Add yogurt, oil, egg and 200 g of the milk.
  4. Mix with your hand and start forming the dough, add additional milk as required, 1 tbsp at a time. Knead well. Form into a ball.
  5. Grease ball of dough with 1 tbps oil, cover bowl with a clean cloth and let the dough rise for 1 hour in a warm spot.
  6. The dough should have doubled in size. Knead again and divide into 8 equal balls.
  7. Heat a cast iron skillet (I use a tortilla pan) on the stove top.
  8. In the meantime, roll each ball into a naan (shape does not matter, about 1/4 inch in thickness).
  9. Place a naan on the hot skillet and cook for about 2 minutes, until it bubbles and browns.
  10. Turn over and continue to cook for another 2 minutes, again, until it browns.
  11. Repeat with other naans.
  12. Optional, but highly worth it, slather naan with garlic butter and enjoy.

29 thoughts on “race & identity and homemade wholewheat naan bread

  1. Lovely post and beautiful naan (I am still looking for the elusive, delicious GF naan recipe)! And as to the topic of identity … we could spend a lifetime talking about that, I think! It is complicated and nuanced. There are the facets that are “easy” to define, and those that require more introspection. Another topic of conversation for our teatime talk!

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  2. My daughter loves naan bread and I might just have to surprise her with homemade one day! It looks perefect!

    Yes I agree Annika, we are indeed more then our identity and the colour of our skin. I’d like to believe that there are indeed good people who can see past this…beautiful post!

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  3. I’m a sucker for naan bread, so already bookmarked this one aha! It’s funny that identity starts with race and is closely followed by background, but is it really so? Of course my identity is planted firmly on the fact that I am caucasian and the fact I was born and raised and lived for most of my life in Portugal. But in my ancestry there are celtic and arabic roots, as there is french and british descendency, and these all end up featuring in my self, me as an individual, right? Like, I’m very prone to British-ness in certain aspects, but there is a coquetterie about me that is very French. I love chick peas and certain spices that are very Moroccan, and my arabic ancestry must show in this, as it does in the way Celt lore and music move me to distraction. But the funniest thing, one day I was watching a TV show and it was about Finland, and they were saying that the Finnish people enjoy silence very much and solitude as well, they are very comfortable being with a large group of people and all in silence, thinking, pondering, brooding, enjoying the moment, as they are also very comfortable and enjoy their own company and that moment I thought to myself I must be Finnish and didn’t know it!! But that I know, I have no FInnish roots in my ancestry, and yet, I am very particular to certain things that are part of the northern european cultural roots and not particular at all with most of my own country’s culture – I loathe fado, for instance! So what is it that really does make for our identities, I wonder…

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    1. Wow, thank you for such an insightful comment and you’ve perfectly illustrated my point. it really shouldn’t matter what race we identify with, at the end of the day, we are all humans and should all be treated equally. Let me know if you try the recipe.

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  4. Thank you for the recipe, and for your (always thoughtful) musings. I’m a (white) Englishwoman living in America so while I don’t get the instant question, it does eventually surface once my accent becomes apparent…quickly followed by the information that the questioner has ancestors from another part of the country and have I ever been there? Probably not.
    But I’m still fascinated by origins – how people got where they are, and why. Maybe because I left my small rural town as soon as I could? And since then everywhere I have lived has been a melting pot of cultures and I love the diversity. Especially in art, and even more especially the culinary arts. Which brings me back to naan🤣😋. Funny how I always return to food…

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    1. I can totally understand this Kate. I, too, am fascinated with origins and why people migrate. And for this reason, I never get offended when others ask me about my background; I understand that they too are curious… it’s only human nature I guess. Hehe, food is always a wonderful way to bring everyone together!

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    1. So sorry for such a late response… yes, you may omit the egg (just adjust the milk quantity to get a nice dough)… the egg makes it fluffier but it will still be fine without it, I have already tried it.

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  5. I have never been much of a bread maker, no matter how easy it seems. I am simply intimidated by the whole process. But, I want to try your recipe because naan bread is one of my favorites and creating sauces and spreads for breads is a current hobby of mine. I also love the quote from Obama. My blog and subsequent cookbook shares my colorful heritage and ancestral recipes. Well, the blog is mostly conversation and pics, I’m saving the recipes for the book. Thanks for sharing this!

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    1. I was exactly like you over a decade ago. The only bread I made was roti as that’s what was made at home growing up. But once you get into the habit of bread-making, it really becomes part of the routine and nothing beats fresh bread. We gradually switched to using only whole wheat flour and I couldn’t be happier, it really is so much healthier. Let me know if you try the recipe. Thank you and sorry for such a late response.

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  6. So good to see the recipe for the lovely naan that caught my eye on Instagram Annika. It’s funny my husband who has an Indian heritage rarely gets asked where he is from – perhaps because Sydney as a city is so multi-cultural…..I would have thought Canana was too?

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    1. Canada, especially larger cities like Montreal are very multi-cultural. It may be because I could easily fall into another ethnic group if you judge by appearance only. From my experience, those that ask are just genuinely interested in learning about origins and migration, as I am too. It’s such a fascinating topic. Thank you for stopping by and my apologies for such a late response.

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  7. I can’t wait to try this recipe. I tried to make naan maybe 20 years ago, and it just didn’t turn out. And I can make flatbreads in my sleep. I assumed I just needed a tandoor, but my husband is against that!

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