“YOU are NOT turning on the oven today,” my wife told me as she headed toward the door. The temperature was projected to be in the range of an A+ student. I didn’t need an instant read thermometer to see where this was headed. We were in the middle of a heat wave. It was a perfect day to play with dough on top of the stove and an excuse to finally try Nick Malgieri’s recipe for griddle-baked flatbread (naan). I had my cast iron pan, a lid to cover, time (I could let the dough rise for three hours in the refrigerator), and paneer that I purchased at Costco. I also had a bag of mangoes. Mangoes? Paneer? All-purpose flour naan? All roads that lead to my vegetarian daughter’s heart.
The combination of mangoes and paneer was a mouthful for my wife to digest. Not because she couldn’t see them hanging out together, having coffee or even going to the movies (definitely not Revenge of the Killer Tomatoes), but because she was thinking more along the lines of paneer tiki masala, a dish that our daughter really likes. Our daughter also likes mangoes. So, there! I needed to break through my wife’s far away, why are you still in the room, talking to me look. I handed her Laxmi Hiremath’s The Dance of Spices and showed her the recipe for “Delicate Mango Sauce Crowned With Paneer.” I watched her convince herself into trying it. Maybe she saw herself pushing mango puree and paneer across the pan, ushering them like shy newlyweds into their matrimonial bed, sprinkling a blessing of spices into the fragrance of their passion. She chose “Yams and Green Beans in an Aromatic Velvety Sauce,” another recipe from the book, to sit at the dais reserved for the two lovers—and not as a lady-in-waiting or handmaiden. This recipe is as noisy and messy as the new next-door neighbors you’ve been hoping to meet, but you stop short of stepping across their doormat because you don’t know if “Welcome” spelled with a “V” is a joke or if they’re being serious. Who among you could resist the call to arms to wash off the grime from the splatter screen that has been hanging above the stove like unwanted merchandise at a junk shop? I took a step forward and reported to duty: All in the service of cooking mustard and cumin seeds for a finger-snapping 30 seconds or until they stopped popping. And, for the hope of leftovers.
I removed the dough that had been sitting in my refrigerator for three hours and let it come to room temperature. Following Malgieri’s instructions, I covered the pan and heated it while I started shaping the dough, initially flattening it with the palm of my hand and then using a rolling pin to stretch it into an eight inch disk. I placed the first naan in the pan, set the timer for two minutes, covered it, and waited for the moment of truth, disaster, somewhere in-between, or as some like to say, a teaching moment—would I learn to become a better baker? Would I remember to use a pot holder when removing the lid? I was slammed with joy when I saw a few dark spots and a slight boasting of a blister. It was time to turn the naan over and continue baking for an additional two minutes. Glare and Stare, the two hunger monsters prowling in the kitchen grew closer with each damning tick of the timer and converged upon me. The eyelash routine. The perfected pout. The threats to withhold affection. I’ve become accustomed to their desperate measures so I knew what I needed to do to protect the first piece of naan. I drew my blade and pierced their pleas with swords of carrot sticks. There. That ought to hold them. I took the first one out and continued to heat the pan. Five more to go.
Helpings of Mangoes and Paneer and Yams and Green Beans on our plates resembled neighboring countries with open borders. Like spirited travelers, we wandered freely back and forth, unconcerned about being detained by Customs Agents. In the frenzy of a music medley, I conducted songs of spices and sauce with torn batons of naan.
Unconsumed portions were still sitting in the refrigerator the next afternoon. Had my wife hastily left for work, taking her usual lunch staples of yogurt and fruit? Was she planning on taking it the following day? Questions like these are sometimes better off unanswered. My daughter didn’t protest my offer to reheat the paneer and mangoes. The promise of dipping naan into the leftovers was too hard to resist. The answers, that I learned later that afternoon, were yes (she left for work in a hurry), and yes (she had hoped to eat it for lunch the following day). It caused me to think of “This is Just to Say,” a poem by William Carlos Williams.
“This is Just To Say”
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold
The following afternoon I melted cheese on the remaining piece and made a naan pizza. Naan Naan Naan Naan. Naan Naan Naan Naan. Hey Hey Hey Goodbye.