Indian Fry Bread and Indian Taco Recipe and History
Indian fry bread is the foundation of a popular dish called Indian Tacos. Originally known as Navajo Tacos, they have been adopted by other tribes. The Navajo taco was voted the State Dish of Arizona in a 1995 poll conducted by the Arizona Republic newspaper.
Indian tacos, made with Indian fry bread, are the universal modern powwow food (see below). They are also popular attractions at many fairs, festivals, and outdoor summer shows held in the southwest. People will line up to wait their turn to buy some freshly made tacos. Indian tacos are a combination of beans or ground beef, chopped lettuce, sliced tomato, shredded Cheddar cheese, and optional green chile atop plate-sized rounds of crispy Navajo or Indian fry bread. No plates or silverware are need, as you just fill the fry bread with your desired filling, roll it up, and eat.
Photos courtesy of the National Indian Taco Championship held in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.
History Indian Fry Bread:
Indian fry bread is tradition to the Navajo, and comes with a story of great pain and suffering. Though the tradition of fry bread is common among many Southwestern Tribes, it is the Navajo who developed this recipe. I do not feel that I can share the recipe without sharing it’s origins and what it means to some today:
The Navajo planters lived from the Earth as their ancestors had for hundreds of years before. They also raised livestock to feed their family. The Navajo dinetah (or homeland) was bordered by the four sacred mountains, from northeastern Arizona, western New Mexico, and north into Utah and Colorado. They planted crops in the fertile valley lands, such as Canyon de Chelly known for Ansazi ruins.
The Navajo traded with the Spanish, Mexican, Pueblos, Apache, Comanche, and even the early American pioneers. Around 1846, large numbers of pioneers moved into the area and the cavalry came with them. This is when troubles began. The troubles escalated with the murder or Narbona (1766-1849), a well-respected Navajo leader on August 31, 1849. On this day, Narbona along with several hundred of his warriors, had come to meet and discuss peace with U.S. Colonel John M. Washington and others of the military stationed in the area. There had been trouble with theNew Men (the New Mexican settlers who had driven Mexican settlers out of the area).
After several hours, it was believed a settlement had been agreed upon. However, a young warrior by the name of Sadoval, had plans of his own. Mounting his horse he began to ride in front of the Navajo party, attempting to have them break the treaty. A U.S. Calvary soldier began to say that one of the horses ridden by a Navajo was his, and what peace there was in the meeting that was disintegrating into battle. Colonel Washington commanded the Navajo to stand down and return the horse to the soldier or he would fire into them. The rider and horse were now gone, and the Navajo party did not comply. A canon was fired, and Narbona was mortally wounded. It is told that he was scalped by a U.S. soldier as he lay dying.
This disastrous attempt at peace led to the Long Walks. In September 1863, Kit Carson (1809-1868) was dispatched into Navajo land to retrieve a surrender. When no Navajo came to meet with him, he ordered the burning of the land. Attempts were made to starve out the Navajo and many were captured and taken to Bosque Redondo near Fort Sumner. Hundreds starved on the 300 mile walk and more would die later in the crowded and disparaging conditions . Navajo were placed with the Mescalero Apache where home peace was often not the case. The camps were meant for 4,000 to 5,000 people, yet there were now over 9,000 people, and supplies were meager.
The government supplies of lard, flour, salt, sugar, baking powder or yeast, and powdered milk were often rancid. Fry bread came from these few foods provided during the 4 years of captivity. Since that time, it has become common food at most all PowWows of numerous tribes
To some, Indian Fry Bread is a sacred tradition. It is to be consumed by the people until the earth has again become purified. Wherever one finds Indian fry bread one finds its taco equivalent, and curiously enough, it’s often named after whichever tribe the reservation belongs to.
1993 – The American Indian Exposition in Anadarko, Oklahoma hosted its first National Fry Bread Contest. The purpose of this exposition is to show off Native American arts and crafts and help preserve their cultural heritage. This event also features one of the largest American Indian parades in Oklahoma.
2005 – South Dakota designated fry bread as the Official State Bread with House Bill Number 1205 on February 25, 2005.
Present Day – Today, fry bread is generally known as a Carnival or State Fair treat to the general public. In some areas of the United States, this sweet treat is known as Elephant Ears. It is a quick bread that’s fried and served as a sweet treat, drizzled with honey and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.
Fry bread is most often used as the foundation of the famous “Indian Taco with ground beef and other taco ingredients of your choice. Originally known as Navajo Tacos, they have been adopted by other tribes. The Navajo Taco was voted the State Dish of Arizona in a 1995 poll conducted by the Arizona Republic newspaper.
Indian Tacos are the universal modern PowPow Food (see below). They are also popular attractions at many fairs, festivals, and outdoor summer shows held in the southwest. People will line up to wait their turn to buy some freshly made tacos. Indian Tacos are a combination of beans or ground beef, chopped lettuce, sliced tomato, shredded cheddar cheese, and optional green chile atop plate-sized rounds of crispy Navajo or Indian Fry Bread. No plates or silverware are needed, as you just fill the fry bread with your desired filling, roll it up and eat.
The National Indian Taco Championship is a festival held in Pawhuska, Oklahoma on the first Saturday in October.
Sift together the flour, salt, powdered milk, and baking powder into a large bowl. Pour the water over the flour mixture all at once and stir the dough with a fork until it starts to form one big clump.
Flour your hands well. Using your hands, begin to mix the dough, trying to get all the flour into the mixture to form a ball. You want to mix this well, but you do NOT want to knead it. Kneading it will make for a heavy Fry Bread when cooked. The inside of the dough ball should still be sticky after it is formed, while the outside will be well floured. Cut the dough into four (4) pieces. Using your floured hands, shape, stretch, pat, and form a disk of about 5 to 7 inches in diameter. Do not worry about it being round. As Grandma Felipa would say “it doesn’t roll into your mouth.”
In a deep heavy pot, heat the vegetable oil to about 350 degrees F. You can check if you oil is hot enough by either dropping a small piece of dough in the hot oil and seeing if it begins to fry, or by dipping the end of a wooden spoon in and seeing if that bubbles. Your oil should be about 1-inch deep in a large cast-iron skillet or other large heavy pot.
Take the formed dough and gently place it into the oil, being careful not to splatter the hot oil. Press down on the dough as it fries so the top is submersed into the hot oil. Fry until brown, and then flip to fry the other side. Each side will take approximately 3 to 4 minutes to cook. Place the cooked Fry Bread on a paper towel to absorb excess oil.
Indian Fry Bread can be kept warm in a 200 degree F. oven for up to 1 hour. They refrigerate well and can be reheated in a 350 degree F. oven for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.
Different ways to eat and serve Indian Fry Bread:
Eat them as they come out of the fryer
Mix softened butter and honey together and spread it on top
Sprinkle with a cinnamon sugar mixture
Sift powdered sugar on top
Make the famous Indian Taco (see below) and stack with your favorite taco ingredients
In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, brown ground meat and onions until cooked; remove from heat.
Place Fry Bread, cupped side up, on separate plates. Layer ground meat, lettuce, tomatoes, Cheddar cheese, and green chile peppers onto top of each Fry Bread. Top with sour cream, if desired, and either roll up or serve open-faced with a fork.
Makes 4 servings.
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Every weekend from April through October, thousands of Native Americans throughout the United States and Canada pack up their cars and heat to powwows. Some families go “on the circuit” to many large Powwows which are held at different places every weekend. A traditional powwow is a social gathering of Native Americans from many nations. Powwows help maintain cultural identity and attract visiting dancers from all over.
In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, Indians were not allowed to have dances. Government officials thought the dances were organized to resist federal forces. They did not realize that the dances were held only to honor their elders and warriors, give gifts and recognition to those deserving, sing honor songs, ask questions of the elders, teach by example, dance the sacred circle, and be healed.
In the 1960’s, officials finally realized that these dances and traditions were not dangerous, only important to Native Americans. Native Americans today are developing deep pride in their culture and traditions.
Comments from readers:
Thank you for the Indian Fry Bread recipe and the origin of where they started. I am originally from Oklahoma – very interesting. Again, thank you. – Doris Griggs (11/23/14)