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'Wich of the Week: Navajo Taco

'Wich of the Week: Navajo Taco

Countless sandwiches are native to America, but the Navajo Taco is a Native American sandwich in the strictest sense of the word. Made by piling New Mexican taco fixings onto traditional Navajo frybread, this scrumptious sandwich is a specialty of Arizona, so on a recent trip to Phoenix, I stopped by The Fry Bread House to do some firsthand research.

My first question, of course, is why a Navajo Taco — also called an Indian Taco — is considered a sandwich rather than a taco. The crucial distinction is that tacos are made with tortillas and sandwiches are made with bread — in this case, Navajo fry bread, which tastes like a cross between a thick fried pita and funnel cake without the sugar. Indian tacos are typically filled with beans, ground beef, or a combination of both; I opted for refried beans, flavored with strips of New Mexico green chiles. Salivating yet? For the juicy details and a recipe,

.

The taco arrives swaddled in paper, tidily tied up at the top. But undo the paper, and the enormous sandwich spills open to reveal a bouncy cushion of fry bread about the size of a frisbee, coated with smooth red salsa, beans and onions, iceberg lettuce, and shredded cheddar cheese.

I thought about eating it with a knife and fork, but I'm glad I didn't, because the fry bread only gets tastier when folded around the filling, deliciously deflated of air as it soaks up the saucy mess. In this case, the toppings weren't anything special: I kind of wished the cheddar cheese were melted, and I added a healthy helping of hot sauce.

But the main selling point is the fresh-from-the-pan fry bread, and it did not disappoint. I devoured the whole enormous lunch in spite of my promise to myself that I wouldn't.

Tewa Tacos (aka Indian Tacos)

Tewa Tacos (aka Indian Tacos)

Tewa Tacos (aka Indian Tacos)

Ingredients

  1. For the tacos:
  2. 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
  3. 1 cup refried beans
  4. 6 round fry bread pieces, recipe follows
  5. 1/2 pound cheddar cheese, grated
  6. 1 head lettuce, shredded
  7. 3 tomatoes, chopped
  8. 1 onion, chopped
  9. Salsa, optional
  10. 1 (3-ounce) can diced green chiles, drained
  11. For the fry bread:
  12. 2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
  13. 1/2 cup dry milk solids
  14. 2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
  15. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  16. 2 tablespoons lard, cut into 1/2-inch bits, plus 1 pound lard, for deep frying

Directions

  1. Make the fry bread: Combine the flour, dry milk solids, baking powder, and salt, and sift them into a deep bowl.
  2. Add the lard bits and, with your fingertips, rub the flour and fat together until the mixture resembles flakes of coarse meal.
  3. Pour in the water and toss the ingredients together until the dough can be gathered into a ball. Drape the bowl with a kitchen towel and then let the dough sit at room temperature for about 2 hours.
  4. After sitting, tear the dough into 6 equal pieces. Then, on a lightly floured surface, roll each dough ball into a circle about 4 inches in diameter and 1/4-inch thick. With a small knife, cut 2 (4- to 5-inch) long parallel slits completely through the dough, down the center of each rolled piece, spacing the slits about 1-inch apart.
  5. In a heavy, 10-inch cast iron skillet, melt the remaining pound of lard over moderate heat until it is very hot but not smoking. The melted fat should be about 1-inch deep; add more lard if necessary.
  6. Fry the rolled dough, 1 at a time, for about 2 minutes on each side, turning them once with tongs. The bread will puff slightly and become crisp and brown.
  7. Drain the Navajo fry bread on paper towels and serve warm.
  8. To make the tacos: Brown the ground beef in a saute pan. At the end, add refried beans to heat.
  9. Divide equally onto 6 fry bread rounds. Top with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, green chiles, onions, and salsa, if desired.

Makes 6 4-inch round tacos.

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tawnyinthepink tawnyinthepink 7 years
Indian fry-bread is amazing too...just a bit different in taste and a little in texture...I'm Seminole Indian...ours is a bit more dense...
tawnyinthepink tawnyinthepink 7 years
If you want fantastic (close to traditional Mexican fry-bread) try Tucson!
j9nd2000 j9nd2000 8 years
my husband and i love the frybread house!! i'm so glad you were able to visit our city and enjoy a great local favorite!!
tinacuchina tinacuchina 8 years
My aunties would disown me if they ever heard me say this, but Dineh frybread beats socks off any other nation's. Lakota frybread (or at least my family's version) is made with yeast and is less flavorful. I use my aunties' recipe when I'm having soup and/or wojapi, but if I'm making NDN tacos (or if I'm cooking for someone who has never had it before) I use a Dineh recipe.
MSucre MSucre 8 years
I had a Navajo Taco In Tuba City, Arizona which is the biggest city in the Navajo Nation. It is part of shared reservation space for The Navajor and the Hopi people. The Navajo taco I had was on a sort of blue corn flat bread with mutton and a big fat jalapeno type pepper. It was one of the best things I've ever had. This recipe looks good too!!!
rezgurl rezgurl 8 years
Indian Taco's are a big treat in my house.. I make mine differently tho.. I use a spicier meat mix with a tomato sauce base. I make the fried bread using a yeast recipe, like for white bread, and fry it up in bread plate sizes,, and they are eaten with a knife and fork.. Each region of the country has their own variations.
356UIK 356UIK 8 years
Hm. Looks like a Taco Bell Gordito or Gordita. However you spell it.
wackdoodle wackdoodle 8 years
Seminoles at least my relatives love exotic meat ie gator and water snake. They say everything tastes like chicken. I'll take their word for it.
Nan-Einhart Nan-Einhart 8 years
Oh, man, we don't get those in Florida. Is there a Seminole sammie? I don't think so. It would probably be a roll of mosquitoes and 'gator.
AmberHoney AmberHoney 8 years
Thanks for the history lesson, kimberley, I love learning about the Indians and do have several books from the SW.
AmberHoney AmberHoney 8 years
I had one of these yummy treats in Tombstone, Arizona and fell deeply in love.
kimberley kimberley 8 years
Yummy! Nothing like authentic New Mexican cooking! Thank you thank you thank you for posting this recipe. I love New Mexican food. I miss it -- I moved over 10 years ago, but you never forget how different the food is. I wanna make this for dinner tonight! To me, it's not a Navajo Taco without the green chiles. (chiles from Hatch, NM if I can get it!) If you don't like spicy, you can add just a sprinkle of mild diced chile to give it a great flavor. MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM. (hee hee, I put one tiny square of chile on the top of my 4-yr old's taco like a cherry on the top of a sundae) I agree, fry bread is not fork and knife food, it's dig in with your bare hands and have lots of napkins handy kind of food. :) Oh, and I hope you don't think this is nitpicking, but Navajo and Tewa are different. The Tewa are Pueblo Indians (northern New Mexico area near the Rio Grande), and Tewa is the name of their linguistic group. There's also the Arizona Tewa, who live on the Hopi reservation in Arizona. But the Navajo people primarily live in the Four Corners area of the southwest. Their languge is Navajo. And on a historical note, fry bread originated in the 1860s when the Navajo were relocated by the government, and they were provided staples of flour, lard, sugar, and canned goods for food because their new land, 300 miles distant, did not support their indigenous crops well. Writer Sherman Alexie says, "Frybread is the story of our survival."
gabiushka gabiushka 8 years
Not my cup of tea, but let me just say for the record that all tacos are Native American.
wackdoodle wackdoodle 8 years
Soniabonya- If I am not mistaken Double Action Baking Powder has a two part chemical reaction when you cook, it leavens twice. First it begins the leavening process when simply incorporated in the food stuff. Then it has a secondary leavening stage when it experiences a chemical reaction due to heat. There are single action leavening products the most common is baking soda. And I believe there is even single action Baking Powder but its pointless because the reason you use baking powder over baking soda or even both at the same time is you want to have additional and sustained lift in the food stuff during the cooking process.
wackdoodle wackdoodle 8 years
OMGG I totally forgot about Navajo Frybread! I remember that when I was in elementary school Will Rogers Jr and his Native American friend came to my school and set up a Native American village and taught us all sorts of stuff but mainly how some regional Native American group ate. They made tons of frybread for all of us kids and we just gobbled it up and danced around the fire. I know I took the recipe to my mom and she and I made it once. Good memory. However I think if I tried to eat that now I'd puke from the grease. Sad.
Soniabonya Soniabonya 8 years
mmmm sounds so yummy, but what is double acting baking powder?? simple baking powder won't work?
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