Thursday, February 16, 2012

Snacking State-by-State: New Mexico II - More Than A Taco

Throughout Indian Country you don't find one monolithic culture, but so much cultural diversity.  Still, one common thread running through much of Native American cuisines is the humble, versatile frybread.  Grown from hardships during many Long Walks in the 19th century, Native peoples made what they could with the few rations the US government gave them that didn't go rancid as they were marched into often unknown territory.  The frybread was born out of this, and has long since become a staple of Native American dishes.  [Detterick-Piñeda 2011]

Official Name: State of New Mexico
State Nicknames: The Land of Enchantment
Admission to the US: January 6, 1912 (#47)
Capital: Santa Fe (4th largest)
Other Important Cities: Albuquerque (largest), Las Cruces (2nd largest), Rio Rancho (3rd largest) 
 Southwest, West; Mountain (US Census)
RAFT NationsChile PepperPinyon NutBison
Bordered by: Colorado (north), Oklahoma & Texas (east), Sonora & Chihuahua (Mexico) (south), Arizona (west), Utah (northwest)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: biscochito (cookie), New Mexico cutthroat trout (fish), yucca flower (flower), chile pepper (vegetable, though technically it's a fruit), frijol (vegetable - yes, two state vegetables), pine nut tree (tree - for the pine nuts, not the tree), New Mexico black bear (animal, though these are not ever eaten these days)
Some Famous and Typical Foods: Southwestern (specifically New Mexican) cuisine; the fabled New Mexico chile, Native American (such as Navajo) foods such as frybread, Navajo taco, etc.

One popular dish that has reached many corners of Native America is the Navajo taco (often called the Indian taco outside of the Southwest).  In fact, as Cynthia Detterick-Piñeda [2011] writes, the Indian taco is quintessential powwow food.
Indian tacos are the universal modern powwow food... They are also popular attractions at many fairs, festivals, and outdoor summer shows held in the southwest. People will line up to wait their turn to buy some freshly made tacos. Indian tacos are a combination of beans or ground beef, chopped lettuce, sliced tomato, shredded Cheddar cheese, and optional green chile atop plate-sized rounds of crispy Navajo or Indian fry bread. No plates or silverware are need, as you just fill the fry bread with your desired filling, roll it up, and eat.  [Detterick-Piñeda 2011] 
Even at powwows held in the Baltimore area, you will find at least a few food stands selling these: large pieces of puffy frybread piled high with the traditional fixins' for the Americanized "Mexican" taco: ground beef, onions, tomatoes, sometimes salsa, guacamole, sour cream, jalapeños - even black olive slices on occasion.

While most of Navajo Nation overlaps with Arizona (heck, in 1995 Arizonans voted the Navajo taco the state dish), a good chunk of Navajo Nation lies in New Mexico, and certainly the Navajo taco is eaten there.

For some odd reason I just can't seem to get very large frybreads out of my kitchen (not a lot of practice here).  So what you are about to see is really a mini-taco/"slider" version of the Navajo taco.

The Recipe: Navajo (or Indian) Taco

I used Detterick-Piñeda's recipe that she lists on her "Navajo Fry Bread, Indian Fry Bread" recipe page, which also includes a recipe for Indian tacos.

First, you need to make the frybread.  Fortunately, I had all the ingredients lying around - common with frybread, which grew out of hardship and a lack of fresh ingredients.

* powdered (dry) milk (just a little)
* unbleached flour
* baking powder
* salt and water
* And of course, vegetable oil, for frying.

First, mix the dry ingredients together.

Next add the water and stir with a fork until it becomes dough-like.

Like so.  Flour up your hands, and divide the dough. Stretch it out into fryable breads (my mother used canned biscuit dough to make something similar when I was little. She called them "pull-out cakes" because you pulled out the biscuit dough and fried it.  To minimize healthiness, you smooshed two biscuits together before frying, and ate it with margarine).

Heat up that oil when you are ready to start frying.

You should heat it to about 350°F for best results.

Fry the frybread for about 3 to 4 minutes on a side, less if it is smaller and browning nicely.

Hold it down in the pan if you need to, in order to guarantee that the whole thing gets browned.


These are pretty small frybreads, but at least they turned out.  I've had mixed results with frybreads.  The ones I made with wild rice back when I was examining Minnesota turned out very nicely.

Next come the tacos.  To make these, I mostly followed Detterick-Piñeda's recipe with a few minor adjustments.

* the frybreads you just made (it doesn't have to be those particular frybreads, but you will need some version thereof)
* ground beef (Detterick-Piñeda calls for ground lamb, an easy thing to find in the Navajo Nation since the Navajo are traditionally herders of sheep.  But ground lamb is pricey here, so I went with ground beef for half the price ($5 per lb)
* tomato and onion
* chiles (I didn't use the New Mexico ones this time, but my own home grown jalapeños)
* cheese (usually Cheddar, but I used some of that Pecorino Romano left over in the fridge)
* lettuce (recipe calls for iceburg lettuce.  Never was a fan.  I used Boston lettuce instead)
* sour cream is optional.  I didn't have any on me, unfortunately.

Fry up the ground beef with the onion and the chiles until brown.

Almost there.

And now you are ready to assemble the Navajo tacos.

Start with your frybread, indented side up.  Mine didn't really have a nice indented side.  This is the closest I came to an "indented side".

Pile the ground beef mixture onto the frybread.

The rest of it is pretty much stacked the way you like it.  I placed a slice of Roma tomato on next.

Next I put on the lettuce (shredded lazily and inefficiently) and the grated cheese.

And finally I put a little more ground beef on top.

I made quite the mess while eating this.  It probably would have been more efficient had I made a bigger piece of frybread.  I ate some of the filling later with the green chile sauce from last time (I made that second, actually).  It's a new way for me to eat a taco, certainly more filling than the standard one in a tortilla. Just imagine this one with sour cream...


Albuquerque Convention & Visitor's Bureau.  "New Mexican Cuisine".  Published 2008.  Copyright Albuquerque Convention & Visitor's Bureau 2012.

Albuquerque Journal.  "Mexican Food Lover's Guide".  Date unknown.  Copyright Albuquerque Journal 2012.

Bueno Foods.  "Traditional New Mexican Green Chile Sauce".  Date unknown.

Detterick-Piñeda, Cynthia.  "Navajo Fry Bread, Indian Fry Bread".  WhatsCookingAmerica.Net, date unknown.  Copyright WhatsCookingAmerica.Net 2012.

Niederman, Sharon.  "Bizcochitos? Biscochitos?".  Posted December 16, 2008.  Copyright The Santa Fe New Mexican 2012.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "New Mexico" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "New Mexico".


Lynn (NM Enchantment) said...

I'm back! And once again, due to your excellent post, I've posted your article on my blog. Thanks for the great instructions and fun facts about New Mexico!

John said...

Thanks! There is one more coming on Sunday. I'm glad you liked them :)

Steve Earley said...

I too got slider-sized frybread. Guess we have some ways to go to catch up with these guys: Even messier with the sour cream, but well worth it. Might be my new go-to taco dish. Thanks for posting.