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Navajo Fry Bread: Four Meals in the Four Corners

28 July 2009 2,593 views One Comment

I’ve been in Durango, Colorado, in the four corners region of the U.S. for the past week and today is my last day. I’m planning to share a series of four blogs, called “four meals in the four corners,” to share recipes, experiences, and photos of the trip.

According to Wikipedia, the four corners consists of southwest Colorado, northwest New Mexico, northeast Arizona and southeast Utah. The name comes from the Four Corners Monument — the only spot in the U.S. that sits on the boundaries of four states. This area is home to the Navajo Nation and the Ute Mountain Reservation.

My friend Brooke’s parents live on land surrounded by the Ute tribe, but there are many Navajo influences in the area as well. I was immediately immersed in Native American history when I arrived at the Durango airport last week — Brooke drove directly to Mesa Verde National Park. Mesa Verde is Spanish for green table — and as we were driving up, the area looked like a mountain with the top sliced off.

balconyhouseWe walked around the park, checking out the small museum and watching a movie about this area where the Ancestral Pueblo people made their home from 600 – 1300 A.D. We then took a tour of balcony house, one of the amazing communities built right into the cliffs at Mesa Verde. They are truly amazing works of architecture.

That evening, we drove to Brooke’s parents house where Nancy was preparing her version of Navajo fry bread. Nancy and Jim modified the recipe below, given to her by a Navajo woman who made the fry bread for school fundraisers.

Fry Bread is the best known of all the distinctively Navajo foods. it is similar to the Mexican sopapilla, a puff pastry. Navajo cooks use handfuls and pinches, but specific measurements are given in this recipe.

Mix together 2 cups of flour, 2 teaspoonfuls of baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup powdered milk. Some cooks add a small amount of shortening, but this is usually omitted. Add warm water to form dough. Knead until dough is soft but not sticky. Cover with a cloth and allow to stand for about two hours.

fry breadShape into balls about 2 inches across, then flatten by patting with the hands until a circle about 8 inches in diameter is formed. This may also be done by using a rolling pin. Put about 1/2 inch of lard or shortening in a large frying pan and heat.

Test the temperature of the grease by dropping in a pinch of dough. If it browns quickly but does not burn, the grease is the right temperature. Some women make a small hole in the center of the circle of the dough before frying. It is fried light brown on one side, then turned and browned on the other. The thinner the dough circles, the crisper the fry bread. The fry bread may be topped with powdered sugar or honey to make a special taste, treat or dessert.

navajo tacosNancy doesn’t fry the bread in oil and instead makes each one in a tortilla press right at the table. She places a ball of dough onto the press and pushes down and if it’s done right, the dough squeals as if with excitement and quickly forms into rough oval. Toppings set out included taco filling made with vegetable protein, black beans, salsa, cheese, guacamole, chopped peppers, onions, and sour cream. They were delicious – like a thick, bready tortilla. For dessert, we drizzled honey on top and enjoyed!

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  • rachf

    sounds like so much fun! can't wait to hear more.