The grand thing about cooking is you can eat your mistakes. -Julia Child

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Navajo Fry Bread & Navajo Tacos

When I was 11 I spent a summer in New Mexico with my mom. She was intent on soaking up as much of the culture of the region as possible, so we took a lot of day trips. Many of those trips took us to the nearby Navajo reservation where I quickly developed a love of fry bread.

Fry bread (spelled as either two words or just one - "frybread") is a food that seems to be common to many American Indian tribes. It is what it sounds like - fried bread. Dough is formed by hand into a flat patty-like shape and then fried until golden on both sides. The way I remembered it, it tasted just slightly sweet, like some really yummy white bread and a funnel cake had a baby.

Fry bread will win no health awards. In fact, this article in Smithsonian Magazine basically calls out fry bread as one of the causes of obesity among American Indians. Regardless, I loved it. My favorite way to eat it was in a Navajo taco - fry bread dressed up with beans, lettuce, tomato, and other fixins. Fry bread is also great topped with honey as a sweet treat.

Navajo Fry Bread and Tacos
Printable Version

Navajo Fry Bread
Makes 4 pieces

1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 powdered milk
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon warm water
corn, canola, or vegetable oil for frying

Add dry ingredients to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to blend. Turn processor on and slowly pour water in the pour spout until a ball of dough forms. The dough should be just moist enough to pull away from the sides and stay together in one ball, but still be sticky to the touch.
Remove dough to a lightly oiled bowl and let rest while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Dough should rest for at least 10 minutes.
When ready to fry dough, pour oil 1/2 deep into a large skillet. Heat oil to 350-365 degrees.
Cut dough into four equal portions. On a floured work surface, use your hands to pat each dough piece into a circle about 8 inches in diameter. You can also use a rolling pin. Use your thumb to create a depression in the very center of the flattened dough.
When oil is ready, gently slip the formed dough into the oil. Use a spatula to press down the dough to allow oil to coat the top. Fry about 2 minutes until the bottom is browned, then flip to brown the other side. Remove to a plate covered with paper towels. Fry bread may be kept warm in a 200 degree oven until ready to serve.

Navajo Tacos
Makes 4 tacos

4 pieces fry bread, recipe above
Southwest-Style Black Beans, recipe below
1/4 head of lettuce, shredded
1 tomato, chopped
1/4 onion, chopped
any other taco toppings you like (shredded cheese, cilantro, sour cream, guacamole, etc.)

Top warm fry bread with beans, lettuce, tomato, onion, and any other topping you wish. Eat open face with a fork and knife or use your hands and eat taco folded in half.

Southwest-Style Black Beans

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped onion
1 clove garlic, chopped
one 15 ounce can black beans
1/2 cup vegetable stock
1 teaspoon tomato paste (optional, use if you have on hand)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
dash dried oregano
dash ground cayenne pepper

In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm olive oil. Add onion and garlic and cook until onion is transparent.
Add black beans and vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Add tomato paste and seasonings and stir to combine.
Reduce heat to low and simmer while preparing remaining ingredients and frying bread.

Absolute yum. I greedily managed to eat two of these in one sitting. I napped shortly thereafter. But seriously - I lucked upon a really tasty recipe. The bread had that faint sweetness I remember, courtesy of the milk powder. It puffed up nicely, regardless of whether I shaped the bread by hand or used a rolling pin. My beans recipe might not be super authentic, but they were quite tasty. Definitely give this a try when you're in the mood for something comforting and filling.

Frybread recipe inspired by:
Manataka American Indian Council
What's Cooking America
Emeril Lagasse


Alisa@Foodista said...

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