Once again, Jeff over at Culinary Disaster organized an Iron Chef style challenge, and this go around, the theme was pizza. Since I always aim to make something a bit different, I wanted to make some sort of exotic pizza. After imagining many dead ends, a friend’s recounting of chicken tandoori pizza popped up in my head, and suddenly, a rush of Indian-themed ideas started swirling together. The result: Indian Pizza!
If you’ve never had something like this before, you’re probably skeptical about this one, and hey, I hear you–it does sound weird, but if you like Indian food, I promise you, this is a joy to eat. I didn’t want this to be some everyday pizza with just chunks of chicken tandoori on top (which sounds like it would be…crappy), so I revisited every element of the pizza.
First, the dough. Why not use everyone’s favorite Indian flatbread, naan? And tomato sauce? That certainly wouldn’t work, so instead, why not make a batch of curry and use the gravy as the pizza sauce? Perfect. And cheese? Well I only know of one Indian cheese, so that was easy: make some fresh paneer (whoa–I’m making my own cheese?!)! So now, with all of the core elements there (dough, sauce, cheese), all that remains are toppings. I decided to make some chicken tandoori, roasted curried cauliflower florets, sautéed green peppers, sliced tomato, and some very thinly sliced chips of both garlic and ginger. (I also meant to include some wilted spinach, a.k.a. “palak,” in the sauce but completely forgot until I cleaned my plate–woops!)
So knowing all of that, hopefully the idea of Indian pizza doesn’t sound so strange any more. Flavor-wise, I was in love. The only downside with having so many elements to this pizza was that there was a lot of work involved in preparing it, so to make that worth my while, I also cooked up a lot of other Indian food so I’d have more than a pizza to show for it. 😉
But would I do it again? Absolutely. A hearty, rich curry sauce, a perfectly doughy but crisp crust, freshly made, creamy cheese, and all of those tangy, spicy, delicious toppings. It was a great meal and much more interesting to eat than the pizza I’m used to. I didn’t do a perfect job with it (e.g. I didn’t drain my paneer well enough so it wasn’t as crumbly as it should have been), but I was nonetheless delighted with the results.
- Paneer (the cheese)
- 1/2 gallon whole milk
- juice of 1/2 – 1 lemon
- Naan (the dough)
- 4 cups wholewheat flour
- 2 tsp yeast
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1.5 tsp salt
- 6 Tbsp plain yogurt
- 3 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 3/4 cup hot water
- Curry sauce
- vegetable oil
- 6 cardamom pods
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 6 cloves
- 2 Bay leaves (or curry leaves if you have them)
- 1 Tbsp fresh ginger
- 6 cloves garlic
- 1 shallot
- 1 red bell
- 3 jalapeños
- 1 habanero
- 14 oz can of tomatoes / 6-8 plum tomatoes
- bit of water
- 1/4 cup cashews
- 1 can coconut milk
- handful cilantro leaves
- 2 tsp ground dried fenugreek/methi
- Chicken Tandoori
- 1.5-2 lbs chicken thighs (skinless, boneless)
- 1/8 cup ginger paste
- 1/8 cup garlic paste
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup plain yogurt
- 1/2 Tbsp chilli powder (adjust to taste, as is will give low/medium heat)
- 1.5 Tbsp vegetable oil
- Optional: knob of butter
- vegetable oil
- 1-2 cloves garlic
- knob of ginger (roughly equal in size to your garlic)
- 1 green bell pepper
- 1 plum tomato
- Curried Cauliflower
- 1/2 head cauliflower
- dash of curry powder
- dash of cumin
- dash of white pepper
This was my first time making cheese, but after seeing how easy it was, how could I not? So begin by pouring all of the milk in a big, sturdy pan and get it up to a boil. Don’t stray far because as soon as the milk hits the boiling point, its going to foam way the hell up, and if you don’t act quickly, it will be all over your stove top, so get it off of the heat immediately. Some others recommend adding other flavorings at this point (e.g. heavy cream, cardamom pods, cloves, etc), but I figured I’ll try that another day.
Once the milk has boiled, pour in the lemon juice and give things a good stir for a minute or two. You should see curdles beginning to develop. Let this rest for 10 minutes or so.
At this point, the milk should be separated into curds (the chunks) and whey (a fairly translucent liquid). Pour the contents of the pan through two layers of cheese cloth. The curds should remain and you should have about 1.5 cups worth of them. If your yield was poor (like me–not much curd and the liquid was still pretty white and opaque), pour everything back in the saucepan, crank it back up to a boil, remove from heat, and add in a bit more lemon juice, stirring, and resting again for 10 minutes before pouring through the cheese cloth again.
Now that you’re happy with your yield, tie up the cheese cloth and squeeze out as much liquid as you can.
Flatten this out (still in cheese cloth) to about a half inch thickness and rest something heavy on top. Put this in the fridge and let it sit there for at least a half hour (I left it for a few hours). If any additional liquid pools out, dump it out. I let this rest in the fridge over night. Whenever you get to it, peel off the cheese cloth since its ready to use–congratulations, you made cheese!
I wanted to try making naan for a while now. I’ve had nothing but problems with Indian breads before (e.g. my burnt, hockey puck looking pooris), despite all the assessments about how easy they are to make, so it was with great trepidation I approached making naan, and thankfully, for the first time ever (and the guiding hand of a great recipe–thank you, Sunita!), this Indian bread had a happy ending!
Begin by mixing the yeast, sugar, and 3 tablespoons of the hot water (not uncomfortably hot…just hot) in a small bowl. Let this rest for around 10 minutes so that the yeast can wake from its slumber and froth up a bit.
Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer (with the paddle attachment), add the flour, salt, baking powder, vegetable oil, and yogurt. Mix this up and add in the yeast mixture, continuing to mix. Finally, change to the dough hook and slowly pour in the water as your mixer keeps on chugging away. The dough should begin to come together, and after a minute or two, remove the dough from the mixer and knead it by hand for a bit, really working that dough to get the gluten action going on.
With a smooth, formed ball of dough, lightly brush it with vegetable oil all over and put it in a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and transfer this to a warm place (I preheat an oven for about 2 minutes and then turn it off) for about an hour and a half or until the dough has about doubled in volume.
I forgot about my dough for a while while preparing the rest of the pizza components, so my dough more than doubled in size. At this point, its ready to be shaped and baked, but we’ll come back to that later.
Chicken Tandoori and other Toppings
A day in advance, you need to marinate the chicken. As mentioned in previous posts, this is a simple matter of mixing the yogurt, ginger paste, garlic paste, chili powder, salt, and vegetable oil well, and then coating all of the chicken with this mixture. Let it rest in the fridge overnight and don’t bother chopping up the chicken thighs into smaller pieces–that will come later.
With the chicken marinated, give it time out of the fridge to come back closer to room temperature (30 minutes or so). Then, simply roast or grill the chicken for around 15-20 minutes at about 475°F. Give this some time to cool before you chop it up into smaller pieces. Optionally, I then like to briefly (1 or 2 minutes) sauté these chicken pieces in hot butter for an added richness.
The remaining toppings are very easy to prepare. Slice paper-thin slivers of peeled garlic and ginger. If you have a mandoline, good for you. If not (like me), this is still a piece of cake. Just slice thinly, lightly oil, and set aside.
Coarsely chop up a tomato and set this aside.
Julienne a bell pepper and briefly (~5 minutes) sauté in vegetable oil to soften a bit. Set this aside.
Break up some cauliflower florets. Toss this lightly in vegetable oil and lightly coat with the spices (this is one of the very few times I bother with a pre-made curry powder, but hey, we’ve got enough work to do, right?). Either roast this or grill for about 20 minutes at around 475°F (so cook it at the same time as the chicken!).
For the sauce, I simply made egg curry with twice as much gravy as I needed (and had one recipe’s worth of egg curry as leftovers throughout the week–two meals for the price of one!). I might try using a butter chicken gravy next time, but I don’t think you could go wrong with either one.
Either way, simply follow the instructions for whichever sauce you go with (cook the spices in the oil, add the veggies to soften, simmer the tomatoes, puree, strain, add the final round of spices and flavors), simmering and reducing it until you’re happy with the thickness and body of the sauce. Set it aside until later in a warm place.
Put it all together
Finally, with all of your pizza elements ready, we can actually get to making a pizza. Be sure to heat your oven/grill/pizza stone as hot as you can and give it ample time to really warm up.
Normally, when making things like naan or chicken tandoori, ideally, you’d have a tandoor, which is a special kind of oven that stays fairly dry and gets fairly (~900+ °F) hot. Seeing how my oven only goes somewhere around 500°F, I chose to put my pizza stone on the grill and really get it cranking. During this, I ran out of gas (lol, woops), but I peaked somewhere a bit over 600°, so I was happy. Whatever you use, just give yourself time to really heat it up (e.g. just because your oven/grill just reached 600°F, the stone is much slower and requires 20-40 minutes to catch up).
Grab a chunk of your naan dough. I used a bit shy of half of the dough (rolling out the remaining dough and baking more traditional pieces of naan), tossing and punching it out to be the shape of my pizza stone.
Now before you focus on the pizza, take a test run. You have extra dough, so make a piece of naan out of it–smallish and pressed/rolled out to be moderately thin. Then, dampen one of your hands with water, quickly pat one side of the naan (to make it a little wet), and then slap it on the pizza stone, wet side down. After about 45 seconds or so have passed, you ought to be able to flip the naan over (try it too early and it will be a tacky mess on your stone) and let it cook for another 45 or so seconds. Figure somewhere around 2-3 minutes total, doing your best to not have it burn. This is so you get a feel for how the dough interacts with the stone and to ensure your stone is hot enough before you throw all your hard work on it. Plus, you have something to snack on.
Confident about your stone and your dough, go back to your pizza crust. Quickly spread on some sauce (leaving about a 1/2 inch border unsauced for your crust) and just pile on the toppings and paneer to your liking. Then, if you have a pizza peel (I just used a cookie sheet), carefully and quickly transfer this to your pizza stone (or just slip it in the oven). If you can moisten underneath before it hits the stone (a mister/squirt bottle is a good way to go), go for it, but if not, alas, you meant well.
Don’t stray too far now, since as you saw with your test naan earlier, the dough cooks very quickly. It will take a little longer what with all the toppings on the pizza, but your pizza could very feasibly be done cooking in 3 minutes or so–just lift an edge of the dough off the stone and peek under to see if its burning so you don’t overcook it.
Once cooked, slide it off the stone, roll your pizza cutter through it to cut your slices, and after all this hard work, enjoy!