Origin: Native American
Method: StovetopJump to Recipe
I still remember our yearly field trip to the Mid-America All Indian Center each year as a child. Native American history and the effects of westward expansion, has always been fascinating to me. I also remember the yearly indulgence in the Navajo frybread tacos that the center served us for lunch. Admittedly, after moving away for college, these flatbread tacos did not really cross my mind until we did a family vacation to Death Valley a few years ago and a small restaurant on a nearby Timbasha Shoshone reservation hit our foodie radar. Immediately, it was like a wave of childhood memories streaming back to me.
A little history of Navajo frybread
As positive of a memory as Navajo tacos are for me, for the Native American community it is quite a bit more complicated. While it is considered by some a symbol of Native American pride and unity, for others, the frybread connects the present to the painful narrative of Native American history. (Smithsonian Magazine)
Navajo frybread originated over 155 years ago, when the United States forced Native Americans living in Arizona to make the 300-mile “Long Walk” and relocate to New Mexico. This land did not easily support their traditional staples of vegetables and beans. To prevent the indigenous populations from starving, the government gave them canned goods as well as white flour, processed sugar and lard—the makings of frybread. As a result, this food became a necessity for survival and for some a painful reminder of this time.
Still, for a large portion of the Native American population frybread represents much more than the oppression they have experienced. The bread is a central part of powwows that bring together the Native American community and often serve as a means of fighting against past oppressions (powwows were once illegal).
Preparing the Navajo Frybread Tacos
Gather your ingredients
For this recipe we attempted to keep things simple, using ingredients that may have been available at the time. Remember that most of the supplies were canned goods from the U.S. Government. We took a few liberties with the recipe as cheese and ground meat are both probably items that were not used, but both are an integral part of the Navajo Flatbread tacos that I remember eating as a child.
Feel free to include your favorite taco toppings. For these tacos we used vine ripened tomatoes, sliced olives, sour cream, and chopped romaine lettuce. Other toppings to consider include beans, a mild salsa, cilantro, and corn. We also used our family’s all time favorite cheese for all things taco: Chihuahua.
For the meat we elected to use ground bison as it, when viewed through the lens of my childhood self growing up in mid-Kansas, is how I pictured these tacos would have been made. If you have never had ground bison, give it a try; it is leaner than most ground beef and with great flavor. If you prefer to use ground beef, that is perfectly ok, too.
One thing that is authentic to how these would have been made is the use of lard to fry the flatbread. We used rendered beef tallow for this recipe, and Epic Provisions continues to be one of our favorite brands for products that put the entire animal to use for cooking. You can check out more of their products at https://epicprovisions.com/.
Making the Navajo frybread
Making the frybread is simple, consisting of flour, milk, baking powder, and salt.
Simply sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder in a medium sized bowl.
Next, stir in the milk and mix well to combine. The dough will be very stiff and slightly dry. If it appears too dry and flaky, add about a tablespoon more of milk. After the dough is uniform, remove it to a lightly floured surface and form into a balls, slightly bigger than a golf ball.
Roll the balls into about 6-8 inch rounds. The dough should not be at all sticky, so if your rolling pin is sticking to the dough, dust the dough with a tiny amount of flour.
While you are forming the dough, heat the lard in a heavy bottomed skillet to 350-360 degrees.
Fry the Navajo frybread, one at a time, in the lard for about 1-2 minutes per side. The bread will form large bubbles and should be browned nicely. The goal is to achieve a golden brown on the outside with a soft chewy center. Remove the fried bread to a plate lined with paper towels while you repeat the process with the remaining dough.
Topping the Navajo Frybread Taco
Cooking the ground bison
Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add 1 pound ground bison and cook until just browned. Drain the meat (bison is pretty lean so often not much fat) and then add in 2/3 a cup of water with 3 tablespoons of our taco seasoning. You can also use your favorite taco seasoning cooked to package instructions.
Let everyone pick out a piece of warm frybread and load it up with toppings. Top the Navajo Frybread Tacos with your favorite toppings. We like to keep it pretty traditional but feel free to experiment with your favorites.
If you have extra frybread, season it with a little butter, cinnamon, and sugar or with honey and powdered sugar for a tasty dessert. Looking for something different, try one of our other desserts like our Blackberry Slump.
Who doesn’t love tacos? Interested in more taco recipes? Give our Carne Asada Tacos, Brisket Quesabirria Tacos, or Trompo Al Pastor Tacos on Your Grill a try. Keep an eye out for our SoCal fish tacos, coming soon.
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Navajo Frybread Tacos
- 1 Pound Ground Bison
- Beef Tallow, Lard, or Oil for frying
- Vine Ripened Tomatoes chopped, for topping
- Sliced Black Olives for topping
- Sour Cream for topping
- Shredded Chihuahua Cheese for topping
- Romaine Lettuce chopped, for topping
Taco Seasoning (See note)
- 1 Tab California Chile Powder
- 1 Tab Hatch Chile Powder
- 1 Tab New Mexico Chile Powder
- 1 Tab Paprika
- 1 Tab Oregano
- 1 tea Salt
- 1 tea Onion Powder
- 1 tea Garlic Powder
- 1/2 tea Corn Starch
- 1/2 tea Cumin
- 2 cups Flour
- 1 cup Milk
- 1 Tab Baking Powder
- 1 tea Salt
- Prepare the taco seasoning and set aside.
- Sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Stir in the milk and mix until well combined. Dough should be firm and dense but not flaky.
- Divide the dough into equal sized balls, slightly larger than a golf ball, then flatten or roll into circles about 6-8 inches in size.
- Heat the lard until the oil is at about 350-360 degrees, then fry each bread about 90 seconds per side. The bread should be golden brown and puffy. Remove the cooked frybread to a paper towel lined plate.
- In a separate skillet brown the ground bison or beef. Drain any fat then add 3/4 cup of water and 3 tablespoons of the seasoning. Stir well to combine and simmer for about 5 minutes.
- Top the Navajo frybread with seasoned meat and then top with any taco toppings that you wish.