I love the flatbread here in Afghanistan, it is a type of nan (Indian name) flatbread and, in fact, it is called nan by some here. Fresh, hot, out of the oven Nan-e Afghani is unreal for eating saucy foods of any kind, especially curries and other types of middle eastern / Indian meals. Use it like a pita without the opening, use it as a wrap, or just sop up sauce with it.
I have seen a number of recipes and methods of making this flatbread and I am sure I could do a passable job using a hot cast iron frying pan with some oil. Some recipes use eggs
and some don’t. From taste, the bread I have eaten does not have egg. The bread I watched being made and what is pictured here does not have egg.
I was at a small
firebase in Afghanistan with an Afghan National Police (ANP) detachment. The Afghanis normally cook for themselves, US and other coalition country soldiers have their own mess sections. On bigger
Forward Operating Bases (FOBs), everyone eats at the contractor run chow halls (note, the Afghanis who cook for themselves make food that is far better than what is served in the contracted mess halls). Depending on where you are and what Afghani personnel are there, you may get lucky and make friends with the Afghanis who are cooking their own food.
Here, they had a small building made out of plywood (on small bases, just
about everything is made out of plywood unless the building was there from a prior use) just for bread making. Cooking other foods is usually done with propane burners. Inside was a big mixing pot, an area for letting the dough rise and working it, the oven and a place to put the cooked bread, a plywood board on the floor.
When I got there, the bread was still rising. The recipe was for 50 people and is approximately as follows. Don’t try this, I don’t have exact measurements and am not 100% sure of one ingredient. The language barrier made this difficult, both the baker and Polish paramedic with me (I was on a Polish Army firebase) spoke English, but not to the extent of knowing certain terms for things. I don’t speak Polish or Pashto outside of a few words at this point in my tour.
9 liters of water
about 200 grams (a guess) of very fine salt
2 palmfulls/handfulls of yeast
baking powder (I think, didn’t taste it), no clue how much
The baker showed me the ingredients, I know what yeast looks like. The salt
looked like confectioner’s sugar, but was definately salt since I tasted that! I don’t know how much baking powder or flour. On the flour, I would assume you use enough until you get the right consistency. Water goes in the pot first.
One thing that was interesting to me is most bread recipes call for sifting the salt with the flour. I don’t know how many people actually do that (I usually don’t and don’t think it messes anything up, I just mix the
dry ingredients well). But, this baker dissolves the salt in one of the 1 1/2 liter bottles of water. Note that, in Afghanistan, all coalition military bases use bottled water for drinking, brushing teeth, etc. The Afghanis on the bases use it as well, the stuff is everywhere and free, including for washing up the pots. I thought this was a good way to get the salt consistently throughout the dough.
The dough is covered and allowed to rise 2-3 hours. I saw the dough when it was rising and not quite ready. Time out for a few outgoing mortar rounds, then back to the bakery, where work had already started. The baker (I’d use his name if I could spell and pronounce it properly) had formed the dough into a large flat square of even thickness and cut it into evenly sized squares. He took the squares one-by-one and rolled them out into approximately quarter inch thick circles. He then punched circular holes in them with a cutout made from a Rosamack 30mm cannon shell (Rosamack is the Polish armored personnel carrier with a 30 mm cannon). He then tossed them to a board for the oven baker to take over.
The oven guy put them on a rounded piece of metal and wet them. I assume the rounded metal shaped the circles of dough to fit the round oven curvature. He then picked up the metal, stuck it in the oven, which was open at the top, and gave it some quick wrist action to transfer the dough to the side of the oven wall, where it stuck. The bread cooks with no flipping the dough, between the hot side of the oven and the heat in the open area, it is not required. When done, he used a couple of long, thin tongd to take out the bread and toss it on the board on the floor. He also used the tongs to keep dough on the oven side, if needed, but he rarely had to do that.
They offered us some of the bread, we took the worst looking one to leave them the best ones, it had the most burnt places. I actually like the charred spots. It was delicious and filling. The bread is also great with Afghan chai, especially older pieces. Like all good bread, there are no preservatives and the Nan-e Afghani gets hard over time. You need to eat this bread as soon as possible out of the oven when it is at its best.