Palak Pie: Indian Pizza
I first remember having something called “Indian pizza” as a child, at a neighbor’s house in my Central Jersey hometown. Years later, when I was living in San Francisco, there were many restaurants claiming to have the “original” Indian pizza. (I may be biased, but given the high population of both Italian-Americans and Indian-Americans in NJ, and the poor quality of pizza in California, my suspicion is that the “original” Indian pie was born pretty close to where I was.) In any case, given how similar naan is to pizza dough, and the “saucy” quality of so many curries, an Indian pizza makes perfect sense! So the other night, I decided to try my hand at a palak pie, with a whole wheat garlic naan crust and a spinach (palak) curry as the sauce. Instead of paneer, I used ricotta– it’s hard to believe, but it’s essentially the same cheese (especially when you are talking about a homemade ricotta). The paneer is firmer because the curds have been pressed for several hours. But in this case, I thought that the creamier consistency of the unpressed curds would work well for the dish. You can also sub tofu (as I did in my saag with tofu a month or so ago), or omit the cheese entirely to make this vegan. Additional veggies, such as cauliflower, eggplant, or pepper, roasted with a bit of curry powder would also make a delicious additional topping.
Whole Wheat Naan Crust
I used soy milk (plain, unsweetened) in this because it happens to be what I always have on hand, but if you don’t mind the dairy, real milk works too. And, my preference is usually for whole wheat, because I like the added flavor, but for a more traditional naan, you can use white flour.
Use a baking stone to best approximate a tandoor. What I actually have are unglazed terra cotta tiles that I’ve lined my oven with. They were just 45 cents each at Home Depot, and they allow me to cover more oven than one single pizza stone. If your oven has multiple racks, line the top rack and the bottom rack with the tiles, and place your naan on the bottom rack. Prop up some additional tiles on the sides for added heat. Always make sure that the tiles (or your stone) is in the oven as it’s preheating, or they will crack.
- 1 cup of all purpose white (unbleached) flour, plus additional for rolling
- 1 cup of whole wheat flour (or just use 2 cups total white flour)
- 1 teaspoon (or one package) active dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar or honey
- 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
- 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil or ghee (clarified butter), plus additional to brush on the naan
- 2 1/2 tablespoons of milk, soy milk, or yogurt
- 3/4 – 1 cup lukewarm water (may be more or less depending on the ratio of whole wheat and white flour used– wheat flour absorbs more liquid)
- 4 cloves of garlic, smashed and minced
Dissolve the yeast in 3/4 cups warm water with the sugar or honey and let sit. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the flours, salt and baking soda. Mix in the oil/ ghee and yogurt/ milk. If using a stand mixer, use the dough hook attachment for this. Then add the water/ yeast/ sugar mixture and mix until the dough is relatively soft. Slowly add additional water if necessary, so that the dough is not crumbly, but is soft. Cover, and let rise for 3-4 hours.
When the dough has risen, preheat the oven to 500, or its highest setting. Divide the dough into two parts (so that we can make two medium sized pizzas). On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough. Use a pizza peel to help place it on the baking stone or tile (2nd rack, with additional stone/ tile on the rack above, if possible). Turn the oven to high broil for an added blast of heat, and bake for about 3 minutes, or until it begins to puff up. (It’s going to return to the oven, so it’s ok if it’s not completely done.) Remove from oven, and set aside. Repeat with the second piece of dough. Reserve the garlic and ghee/ oil.
As the dough was rising, it was time to make your pakak “sauce”.
Palak Pizza Topping
As always, adjust spices to your taste. For this, I wanted the palak curry to be relatively smooth, so I ran it through the food processor until it had the consistency of a pesto, but, you could omit that step and have a much chunkier sauce. Obviously, if you’d like this to be vegan, use oil or a vegan margarine instead of ghee, which is a clarified butter.
- Ghee/ vegetable oil/ margarine to coat the bottom of a saucepan
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
- 1-2 red chiles, finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, smashed and finely minced
- 1 tablespoon curry powder (recipe here)
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tomatoes, diced
- 3 pounds fresh spinach, rinsed and chopped
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- Salt to taste
- 1/2 cup ricotta cheese (optional– omit or sub tofu to make vegan)
- 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped, plus additional for garnish
In a large saucepan, on medium heat, add ghee/oil/ margarine. Add the garlic and ginger and cook, pressing with a wooden spoon or spatula to release the flavors. Add the tomatoes. Add the curry powder to your large saucepan. Add the tomato paste, and mix with a wooden spoon. Add the spinach. Toss the spinach with the spice mixture, add the cinnamon stick, cover, and let simmer, stirring occasionally. I had mine simmering for about an hour. The spinach should release enough liquid that nothing is sticking or burning at the bottom of the pan. If it seems dry, add a few tablespoons of water/ veggie broth. Add the sugar, and salt to taste. Remove the cinnamon stick and let cool. Stir in half a cup of cilantro. Purée in a food processor fitted with the stainless steel blade until it’s relatively smooth, similar in texture to a pesto.
Now, the oven should still be hot, and the naan crust should have been removed after cooking for about 3 minutes each. Brush ghee/ oil onto a naan, and sprinkle on some of the minced garlic. Ladle the palak sauce onto the bread, and dollop on spoonfuls of the ricotta. Place in the oven (with the help of a peel) for an additional 5 minutes or so. Repeat with the other naan. Garnish with additional cilantro and serve warm! Indian Pizza– enjoy!
This post has been submitted to YeastSpotting.