Monday, January 12, 2015

Naan Kathai(Narayan Katar)

When we were in school, sweet cookies mostly meant 'Narayan Katar', the lemon yellow coloured small flat and bulgy ones that we used to buy from City Bakery or Ganesh Bakery. My father told us that they were called Naan Kathai and local bakers have twisted the name to suit the local lingo and made them Narayan Katar! Whatever be the name, these were and these are one of the most favourite sweet cookies I have relished. They just melt in the mouth releasing the flavour of cardamom and aroma of ghee(if made at home. Bakeries add margarine/vanaspati).
I first thought, Naan Kathai is originally from Karachi, as we all know Sindhis are adept at baking fine cookies. My guess was proved wrong, when the other day my friend Arvind Mallya, who has studied colonial cuisine with much expertise, asked me if I know the story behind Naan Kathai and its origin. I showed my ignorance. He explained that Naan Kathai, originally known as Naan Cathay is from China. Chinese made these for the Dutch colonials in Gujarat and they popularised it! Here, 'Naan' means bread and 'Cathay' is an ancient name for China like we also call our country India as Bharat.

Making Naan Kathai is as simple as making Churmundo or Wheat flour laddu. My mother, an expert in making Churmundo has also made Naan Kathai, following a traditional recipe many times. Though we never had oven those days, she used to make the dough balls, transfer them into a flat container with layers of butter paper in between the balls and call me. I used to carefully take them on my bicycle to Ganesh Bakery and get them baked as I waited. They charged Rs.2/- per 100 Naan Kathais those days. Later in the year 1975 I became friends with Michael Costa of Costa Bakery in Chilimbi who said "Bring it here man. I will bake them for you for free!". 

While working in a bank in Bunder Mangalore, a certain Baliga from Bantwal used to come with variety of goodies on an autorickshaw and he used to sell very good Narayan Katar and Ram Katar. Ram Katar is white Narayan Katar without adding lemon yellow colour and had excessive cardamom powder in it. Then my colleague Uppinangady Jayanth Nayak told me "Making them at home is very easy and also healthy. I will give you the tested recipe from my mother!". The recipe he gave, had the ingredients with old  traditional measurements, mentioning 'Kudte' for ghee and 'Lota' for maida and sugar. Kudte means an ounce or approximately 30ml. Lota means the coffee tumbler that measures around 125ml. My mother also used to mention these terms but converting them is not an easy job without using google. Contemporaries knew their formula by the sleight of hand and not by measuring the ingredients! So, I did adapt Jayanth Nayak's recipe here, but used modern measuring units and tools. You may alter the amount of ghee and sugar according to your need, but the consistency of the batter should be like in the pictures.
Nothing can compare to home made Naan Kathai with added pure ghee. Couple of times my mother added saffron to them and the flavour was ultimate. Adding saffron not only adds to flavour, but it also adds slight yellowish tinge to them. We avoid adding artificial colouring unlike bakers who add lemon yellow colur to make them look more attractive! I prefer adding just a hint, maybe 1/3 of cardamom powder as against heavy use by many, so that flavour of saffron will be highlighted more. 

Here I have added tiny cashew bits as well, so that when we bite into them, the cashew bits that get toasted while baking give a good taste blended with other ingredients. Be watchful while baking them. A minute or more delay will brown them and make them more crunchy. They should actually crumble and melt in the mouth as you bite into them. My method may look slightly elaborate, but these stages ensure smoothness and a homogeneous mixture of ingredients. Keeping them for 8-10 hours after mixing the dough also help in soda bicarb act on the dough, leavening the dough and making the Naan Kathais crumble.
Refined Flour(Maida) - 2 cups
Powdered Sugar - 1 cup
Ghee - 80-100Ml
Soda BiCarb - 1/2 Tsp
Baking Powder(optional) - 1/2 Tsp
Green Cardamom powder - A pinch(3 pods peeled and seeds crushed)
Saffron - A pinch
Tiny Cashew bits(Optional) - A handful

Heat and melt ghee.
Divide the hot ghee into 3 parts.
To one part, add crushed saffron and cardamom powder and keep it for 10-15 mins.
Let the saffron and cardamom get blended with the ghee. 
Add that to sugar powder and beat well till creamy.
Add the second portion of ghee and soda, mix well.
Add maida part by part and mix well till maida forms crumbs.
Keep covered for 2 hrs.
Add cashew bits, remaining ghee and knead well to form a soft pliable dough.
Keep well covered for another 6-8 hrs at room temperature.
Add baking powder and knead again(You can skip this step if you want them slightly stiff and crunchy)
Preheat oven at 350°F(180°C) for 10 minutes.
Make small lemon size balls, flatten them slightly by pressing gently with your palms, arrange in the lined/greased baking tray with little gap in between.
Bake at 350°F(180°C) for 15 mins or till tiny cracks form on the top surface and bottom becomes light golden.
Cool down at room temperature on the rack and store in airtight container.


Shilpa Shanbhag said...

Yummm will try to make pronto.. your recipes are a sure hit.. just follow them blindly...

Vidya Nayak Shenoy said...

Looks absolutely yummy and mouthwatering.. BTW ..when mom used to say Narayan Katar ..I used to think it was named after my grandpa..her father , as he was a hotelier and was famous in preparing namkeens n sweets..:)

Archana said...

Hello, tried this recipe today. Somwhow the 80 ml ghee is just not enough to get the soft consistency as in your pics :( had to add more ghee . waiting to bake it. Fingers crossed :)

Rajanikanth Shenoy, Kudpi said...

Oh I could prepare it with roughly that amount of ghee. Maybe my measurement went wrong. Thanks for pointing out Archana Kamath. I will correct the recipe now.


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