You haven’t lived until you’ve tasted a Navajo taco. Even if you’re 120 years old and have traveled the world, if you haven’t had a Navajo taco, you’d better keep breathing until you can get your hands on one. They’re incredibly messy to eat (if you have dogs, they’ll be on high alert for the morsels you’ll inevitably drop on the floor), but so, so, so good.
The first time I ever tasted one was about six years ago, at the Santa Fe flea market, which is actually on the Tesuque reservation between Santa Fe and Taos, even though everybody calls it the Santa Fe flea market. After a morning of shopping for turquoise and pottery, the M.E. and I made our way into the little building which bore signs promising lunch. And what a lunch! We found seats at the counter and shared a Navajo taco and a bowl of green chile stew. This was not standard flea market fare. In fact, the food was so good, we’re still talking about it. Nothing frozen and nuked — somebody who seriously knew how to cook was working that stew pot.
Now, the only problem with eating a Navajo taco (aside from the calories, but we won’t talk about that), is that you immediately want another one. You want to have Navajo tacos for every meal, every day for the rest of your life. But where I live, Navajo taco stands are not waiting on every street corner, or on any street corners. I had to learn how to make them.
The basis of the Navajo taco (also called the Indian taco, depending upon where you are) is fry bread. That’s why it tastes like no other taco you’ve ever had. My mom used to make fry bread now and then when I was growing up — I think one of our neighbors in the Southwest taught her the recipe — and there was nothing better on a Sunday morning. We’d dip it in honey and beg her to make a double batch next time.
I have Mom’s recipe, but something interesting crossed my path one day, and I had to try it. Apparently, some of the Plains tribes incorporate flour from the Prairie Turnip into their fry bread dough. I’d never heard of it before, so I was intrigued when I heard that an Indian-owned company was marketing fry bread mix with Prairie Turnip in it. Now, if this is not your first visit to one of my recipe posts, you know I’m not a mix user. I won’t touch a cake mix–I can always, always taste the chemicals in them, no matter how well somebody thinks they’re disguised. I’m not big on convenience foods in general, but this sounded interesting. All natural, no chemical gunk, and an elusive, traditional ingredient I couldn’t possibly lay my hands on,,,,,I bought a box from a vendor at the Midtown Global Market.
Couldn’t be easier to use. You mix it with water. Then let the dough sit for at least half an hour (it’s quite sticky, so the rest helps).
Roll or pat it out (flour the board). In this case, large rounds for tacos. If you want fry bread for breakfast, small squares are perfect.
Deep fry. Isn’t that beautiful?
Absolutely delicious, too. I must say, Woodenknife makes a good product — I’d buy this mix again. Not a whiff of chemicals, and it does have a slightly different flavor than the fry bread I was used to. Maybe that’s the Prairie Turnip. In any case, it was good.
You can find a list of toppings for Indian tacos in Beverly Cox and Marin Jacobs’s book, Spirit of the Harvest. Or you can check out one of the numerous recipes available on online. I improvised a variation on my usual beef taco recipe.
It’s best to have all the toppings ready to go before you fry the bread, since it should still be hot when you eat it.
To make Miss T’s Taco Filling, you’ll need:
pitcher of excellent margaritas (courtesy of the M.E., Head Bartender at Casa Mystery)
iceberg lettuce, shredded
cheddar cheese, grated
tomatoes, diced (I used grape tomatoes, cut in half)
pickled jalapenos, sliced (or salsa, if you prefer)
sour cream (optional–I didn’t put it on the tacos, but used it to top a small salad made with extra lettuce)
For the meat:
1 lb. ground beef (I used bison, I’m very into bison these days–great flavor)
cider vinegar, perhaps a tablespoon
tomato goo of some sort (sauce, paste, or in a pinch–ketchup, yeah, it works just fine for this)
garlic powder (don’t trip about these–onion and garlic powder are traditional ingredients in Southwestern home cooking)
salt & pepper
1 can organic pinto beans, drained
Brown the meat in a non-stick skillet (no oil needed). Add vinegar, three or four tablespoons of the tomato goo of your choice, and spices to taste. Don’t be shy with the chile powder. Simmer for ten or fifteen minutes while you cut up other things and sip margaritas. Then add the pintos and maybe half a cup of water, and simmer a bit longer until it’s formed a nice sauce, not too wet but not dried out. Adjust seasonings. When the filling is almost done simmering, start frying bread.
Assemble tacos according to photo below. Devour immediately. Thank your lucky stars for fry bread.
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