While perusing the Chowtimes food blog, I came across a recipe created by co-author Suanne for something she called Naan Pizza. Basically, this was a standard cheese pizza that used a piece of cooked Naan bread instead of the more standard rolled dough. In another post, her husband, Ben, visited a Vancouver restaurant featuring Uighur cuisine from the semi-autonomous Xinjiang province in Western China. The Uighur people are largely Moslem and their cuisine features lamb, spices not commonly used in the rest of China, and a type of bread that is very similar to Indian Naan. Ben sampled a dish composed of a lamb-topped chunk of this bread and referred to it as ‘Xinjiang Pizza’.
Ben mentions that chili and carrot were added to the meat I was inspired to try a fusion of Suanne’s ‘Naan Pizza’ with what I saw in his post. My idea was to combine the richness of a western cheese laden pizza with the more exotic tastes of the Far East. This is what I came up with …
I decided to use lamb for this experiment, but you could use beef, or even pork if you like. Cumin works especially well with lamb dishes and I used this spice quite liberally along with two sorts of chili for a decent bit of fiery heat. I chose feta as it is a sheep’s cheese and I thought it would compliment the lamb nicely. Feta does not melt and I wanted a good gooey chees topping so, rather than use the more common Mozzarella, I went with something sharper. There are currently no ‘melt-able’ sheep cheeses in either of our stores at present so I thought that well-aged cheddar would fill the bill.
- 2 pieces of Naan bread
- Roasted Red Pepper and Garlic Sauce (see my ‘Experiments’ Post)
For this experiment, I used President’s Choice Naan that I picked up at the store. This is a relatively new product around here and I will feature it in more depth in a later ‘Foodstuffs’ post sometime.
I wanted to depart from the traditional tomato sauce so I have used the Roasted Red Pepper and Garlic Sauce that I created in a previous experiment with this purpose in mind. If you don’t want to make it yourself, you could substitute a commercial equivalent or even use tomato sauce. If you choose the latter, you will likely want to add a bit of chopped garlic as well.
- ½ cup lamb cut into smallish dice
- ½ cup onion cut across in paper-thin slices
- ½ cup chopped tomato
- 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar
- 1 tbsp. Cumin seed
- 1 small chopped green Jalapeno
- 1 tbsp. salted red chili
- 1/3 cup feta cheese crumbled into small pieces
The chopped salted chili I used is from a jar I made up myself. You can substitute just regular chopped red chili, chili flakes, or even some chopped pickled peppers instead, but if you do, you may want to add an additional pinch of salt to the meat.
By the way… the picture above only shows about half the full cup of cheddar I eventually used. I originally had planned to use just one piece of Naan but, after I took the photograph, I saw that I had enough lamb and other ingredients to do two pieces and consequently upped the cheese amount
The first thing you need to do is roast the cumin seed. This process is very important with cumin as it not only enhances the taste, it also brings out flavor that would not otherwise be apparent. To do this, heat a dry pan to moderately hot and throw in the cumin seed. Toss and stir for a few minutes until the aroma arises and you can see that some of the seeds are starting to turn brown.
Take the cumin off the heat quickly as soon as the first few seeds are browned as they will continue to cook afterward and you don’t want them to be too well done or they can be bitter. Divide the seeds into two equal quantities and set one half aside. Grind the rest to a powder in a mortar.
Mix the ground cumin with the meat in a small bowl and add the salted red chili and a good grinding of black pepper (not shown above). Leave this to sit for at least 30 minutes.
When the meat has marinated sufficiently, heat a sauté pan to high and add a tablespoon of oil. When the oil starts to smoke, add half the meat mixture and stir until it loses its pink color and then add the remainder. The purpose for doing this in two steps is to avoid cooling the pan down so much that the meat begins to steam. You want it to brown nicely and sear in the juices. When all the meat is cooked through and there are some nice crispy brown bits on a few of the pieces, remove from the heat.
When the meat has cooled slightly, put into a bowl and add the onion, green chili and tomato. This not only helps to flavor the meat as it cools, it also makes it easier to spread the toppings easily on the bread rather than adding them separately. At this point, you can stick everything into the fridge until you are ready for the final assembly.
The Final Execution
Heat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and spread a bit of sauce on each piece of bread. I like just a little bit of sauce on pizzas while my wife likes quite a lot. She is away at a conference in Costa Rica this week so I went easy and used only about 3 tablespoons on each Naan. Next, sprinkle on the remaining cumin seeds and then about a third of the cheddar. The purpose of this is to help bind the ingredients.
Now spread on the toppings from the bowl. Add the feta evenly across each piece, sprinkle on the remaining cheddar, and pop the pizzas into the oven. You can use a pizza pan if you like but a Pizza Stone , which I use, works much better. Check the pizzas after about ten minutes or so. Some people like their cheese nicely browned whilst others prefer it just melted. Keep checking until it reaches your preferred state and then remove from the oven. Don’t serve yet, rather let it sit for a few minutes covered in foil until it cools a bit. Then, cut the Naan however you like and dish them up.
Well, I thought it would be difficult for this recipe to actually be bad but I also wasn’t really expecting it to be as good as it was. It may have been that I was ravenous by the time I finally finished cooking, but I really enjoyed the results of this experiment. I did, however, have a few negative observations …
First, I would have enjoyed a bit more of the ‘melty’ cheese on top. This might not be a desirable feature for many people but it would have improved the finished result for me. Secondly, I was really aiming for something that was a very exotic remove from the usual pizza and this didn’t quite make it… I have had spicy, thick meat pizzas in other places before and this was just as good, if not better, but it wasn’t quite ‘different’ enough. I think the ingredients need a little tweaking to get the special ‘Far East’ quality I was looking for.
All in all though… this was an interesting experiment and I think the idea has merit. I’ll play with it some more and would welcome any suggestions that readers might have.