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Monday, July 29

American Native fry bread

Forgive my Food Network moment, which requires every dish to have a story. I have a long-standing love of "Indian" tacos, thanks to the Natives at the Oklahoma State Fair. Their overtaken fort within the fairgrounds was near magical to me as a boy.

Raised near the Indian Meridian, I grew up with Natives, schooled with them, and according to family lore, have a bit of their blood in my mix. I admire the different tribes' rich histories, some more than others, including the songs and dances. However, the passage of time, even when I was a boy, diminished the accurately retold history of grief European immigrants heaped on them. The numerous dislocated tribes in Oklahoma were a chapter in my state history book, and it wasn't a very thick book. They were the names of towns, streets, and such, which only the Natives and Oklahomans seem to intrinsically know how to pronounce (Tahlaquah, Muskogee, Oologah, and Tishomingo, to name a few, roll from the tongue).

Sadly, the story behind Navajo fry bread is one of sorrow and pain. Frighteningly, this story is bleak in both the past (being based on rations to prevent tribal starvation), and present (diabetes and obesity based on poor diet). As mouth-watering good as the taco ingredients piled on top of fry bread can be, this dish should only be enjoyed once or twice a year. To be true to the original, and achieve the correct flavor, lard is used. I prefer Crisco, which to me is a reasonable middle ground between a flavorless fry bread from corn oil, and a fatty one from lard.

Basic recipe:
Flour, unbleached
1 cup +
¼ teaspoon
Milk, powdered
1 teaspoon
Baking powder
1 teaspoon
½ cup
Oil for frying
  1. Sift together the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
  2. Pour in all the water at once, and stir with a fork until it starts to form one big clump.
  3. Flour your hands well, and work in all the flour to form a ball without kneading the dough.
  4. Divide the ball into fourths.
  5. Using floured hands, stretch, pat, and shape a piece of dough into a flat disk, about 5 to 7 inches in diameter, and then poke a hole in the middle with your thumb.
  6. In a Dutch oven, add oil to a depth of 1 inch, and heat to 350°F.
  7. Fry the dough disk, one at a time, for about 3 to 4 minutes per side.
After the fry bread is prepared, toppings can get creative. Traditionally, for tacos, it's layers of thick beefy tomato chili, shredded lettuce, orange cheese, and then diced tomatoes and onions (check out The Pioneering Woman for a great photo blog of the process). Some folks dust the fry bread with powdered sugar or cinnamon and sugar, but I seldom go that route. (Beignets or funnel cakes sate my dessert fry bread cravings.)
One of my first dishes dumped on this blog without a recipe.
Not prone to fixing the same dish the same way twice, this time I'm starting with a 48-hour marinated bison top sirloin, grilled to perfection and then thinly sliced, as my first layer. Spring greens and herb mix next. Then, a fresh heirloom tomato salsa. Orange cheese of choice for the top: jalapeño cheddar!

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