Navajo Taco (United States)

Frybread, with its relationship to the Navajo as described in the Monument Valley episode, is complex.  Throughout the Long March, the assimilation project, and the gradual renaissance, the reliance, and some might say addiction, to wheat, salt and lard remained.  It’s not healthy, it’s a legacy of colonialism and oppression, and it’s likely related the higher incidences of obesity and diabetes.  But it’s also cheap to make, and I’ll be honest, delicious.  


Fry bread is simple.  Flour, baking soda and salt sifted together then moistened with water, although some used milk as well.  Let the dough rest so the baking soda can leaven it, then roll it out and fry it in shortening or oil.  You don’t need lard anymore.  Frybread itself is delicious, reminiscent of funnel cake or beignets or naan or any number of similar fried breads around the world.  If you want carbs and you’re self-isolating, you don’t need yeast to make fry bread.

 

To make it exemplary, use it as the base for a Navajo taco.  You really can’t fold and eat it; a Navajo taco is strictly fork and knife stuff.  Brown ground beef with cumin, onion, and garlic, red chile sauce, and pinto beans. Pile it all onto the fry bread, then add lettuce, cheese, tomatoes and a sliced green chile pepper.  It’s really good.  Like really good.  Yes, it’s laced with all sorts of negative connotations, but it tastes like the pure Southwest.

 

Serves 6

 

INGREDIENTS

For the Frybread

  • Shortening for deep frying

  • 3 cups flour

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 3 teaspoons baking powder

  • 3/4 cups milk

  • 1/2 cup or more water, enough for dough to form a ball

For the Tacos

  • 1 medium sweet yellow onion, diced

  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil

  • 11/2 pound lean ground beef

  • 1 (8 ounce) can red chili sauce (like El Pinto or Abuela's)

  • 3/4 teaspoon crushed cumin seeds or ground cumin

  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 2 (approx.15 oz) cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed

  • 6 pieces Navajo fry bread

  • 2-3 cups shredded lettuce

  • 2-3 cups shredded cheddar cheese

  • 2 large tomatoes cut into wedges

  • 1 large green chile, diced

 

STEPS

  1. Start with the frybread.  In a mixing bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, and salt.

  2. Add milk and enough water to form a dough ball, stirring constantly.

  3. Cover and let rest for about 30 minutes.

  4. After those 30 minutes, heat 2-3 inches of shortening to 380 degrees in a large skillet.  You could use lard here or frankly a neutral oil, but shortening is maybe the winner.

  5. Pinch off 6 equal size pieces of dough and, on a floured surface, roll each out about 7 inches (the size of a small dinner plate).

  6. Carefully drop into hot oil and fry on one side until golden brown, about 1 minute.

  7. With tongs, carefully turn bread over and cook until golden brown about 45 seconds.

  8. Drain on paper towel and repeat process.

  9. Now for the tacos.  In a large skillet, sauté onion in olive oil until golden brown.

  10. Add ground beef and brown.

  11. Add chili sauce, cumin, garlic powder, red pepper flakes and salt and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

  12. When done, gently stir beans into meat mixture to and heat through.

  13. Spread mixture over top of fry bread. Top with lettuce, cheese, tomato wedges and green chile.

It's wrong, but also oh so right.

 

Recipe adapted from and adaptation of a recipe from Cameron Trading Post: 
https://www.azcentral.com/story/entertainment/dining/recipes/2015/06/26/putting-navajo-tacos-back-arizonans-dinner-tables/29006587/

 

Photograph by Don Graham

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