Years ago when my now husband and I were dating he spent time living in Arizona. The first time I visited him there, it was monsoon season…I had never seen anything like it. Thunder, lightning, and bucket-loads of water would fall from the sky, and in an instant it would all be over. After the skies had cleared, the beauty of the dessert would be most breathtaking. For a city girl from LA, it was a fascinating thing to see.
On one of the weekends I visited, we wanted to check out some authentic Native American food, and made our way over to The Fry Bread House in Phoenix. The restaurant is totally unassuming and plain, concealing the fact that it has actually won an America’s Classics Award from the James Beard Foundation. The Fry Bread House puts out some amazing variations of fry breads, from Red Chile Tacos (with fry bread shell) to chocolate and butter fry bread…crazy, I know!!
I was inspired make this Navajo Fry Bread recipe after I tried Yanabah Navajo Tea, also called Greenthread tea, which grows wild on reservations lands in parts of Arizona.
Greenthread tea is herbal tea from the sunflower family, made from the ultra thin leaves of the Greenthread plant. As with many types of tea, drinking Greenthread tea is a cultural experience, something to be respected and admired.
Fry Bread is Navajo soul food. It’s very versatile, matching well with both sweet and savory tastes. In the Navajo tradition, it’s common to serve fry bread along with a hearty mutton (lamb stew) or to just drizzle them with honey and a dusting of powdered sugar.
Making fry breads is actually a really rustic and relaxing experience. Maybe it’s the hands-on touching of soft dough or the faint gurgling of oil that reminds you that you’re taking part in a beloved tradition. The first time I made these I used my stand mixer, rolling pin, and cookie cutter to make uniform, even little breads. The second time, I made these the organic way, just with my hands. The second method had far better results than the first, so take my word for it and don’t bother getting fancy when making fry bread…the natural approach is best.
Whichever way you choose to enjoy these snacking fry breads, have fun and get creative when making them! You can pile a mound of yummy ingredients on top of them, use them for dipping, or serve them appetizer style with some tasty bits on each piece. Serve them with pride, knowing that this recipe comes tried and true from a Navajo grandmother who once made these over a wood-burning stove.
Navajo Fry Bread
Makes 12-4″ pieces.
2 1/2 cups flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 egg, beaten (at room temperature)
1/2 cup milk (at room temperature)
1/4 cup of warm water
vegetable oil for frying
wire rack or paper towels
large pot for frying
thermometer for oil
tongs or wire sieve for handling fry bread
work surface for kneading
1. Mix dry ingredients together in large mixing bowl. Add wet ingredients and knead until you get a shaggy dough ball. Move to a work surface to continue kneading until you get a pizza dough-like consistency. If the dough looks dry, add more warm water a tsp at a time. If the dough looks too wet add a bit of flour in.
2. Cut dough into 12 equal pieces, then roll into balls and flatten into 4″ circles, about 1/4″ thick. Set aside.
3.) Meanwhile, pour oil to a depth of 1 1/2″ in a large pot. Set on medium heat and let come to 375 degrees F. Rip a slight hole in the center of each dough piece to prevent the dough from becoming one large bubble during frying.
4.) When oil has come to temperature, place 2-3 flattened dough pieces into the oil. The dough will start to float shortly. Using the tongs or wire sieve, press down on the dough pieces alternately. Pressing them below the oil surface will help to create bubbles in the dough. Cook for about 30 seconds on each side, or until each side is a light golden brown. Place fry breads on a wire rack or paper towels (with baking sheet underneath) to drain, then serve immediately!
Much thanks to Kent Lyons for sharing this recipe with me!