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Sweet Fry Bread: The Long-lost Recipe of America’s Native Indians

Written by Peter Allen on . Posted in food

Sweet Indian fry bread or sweet fry bread is the foundation of Indian Tacos, a very popular Southwest U.S. food item that is becoming known all over the world.

Also known as the Navajo Tacos, they have been adopted by other tribes as well. Indian fry bread was voted the state dish of Arizona in a 1995 poll conducted by the Arizona Republic newspaper.

What is Sweet Fry Bread?

Indian fry bread and Indian Tacos are universal, modern P.O.W.W.O.W. food. These dishes can be commonly seen at many outdoor summer shows, festivals, and fairs held in the southwest. They are so popular that people wait for hours in line to buy some freshly-made Indian Tacos.

These food items are a combination of ground beef or beans, shredded Cheddar cheese, sliced tomatoes, chopped lettuce, and green chili all sitting on top of Indian fry bread or crispy Navajo bread. You don’t need any silverware or plates. All you need to do is fry the bread, stuff in the filling, roll it up, and scarf it down.

History of the Indian Fry Bread

Indian sweet bread is a Navajo tradition with a story of great pain and suffering behind it. Even though the tradition has been shared among many tribes in the southwest, it was originally the Navajo tribe that developed the recipe.

The planters of Navajo had been living for hundreds of years and raised livestock to feed their families. The homeland of the Navajo (or also known as the Dinetah) was bordered by four mountain ranges: northern Colorado and Utah, western New Mexico, and northeastern Arizona. They also planted crops in fertile places like the Canyon de Chelly or Anasazi ruins.

The Navajo people traded with early American pioneers, Comanche, Apache, Pueblos, Mexican, as well as the Spanish. Large numbers of pioneers moved to this place around 1846, and brought the cavalry with them. This marked trouble for the Navajos and it wasn’t long before something terrible occurred. On August 1849 the well-respected Navajo leader, Narbona, was murdered.

This happened when he and his best warriors were traveling by the hundreds to a peace meeting with John Washington, a US Colonel, and other heads of military stationed in that area. The meeting was about the troubles of the New Mexican settlers who were driven away by Old Mexicans from the settlement area.

After many hours, it was believed that the settlement was agreed upon. But Sandoval, a young warrior, had his own plans. He began to ride in front of the Navajo party on a stolen horse to try and break the treaty. One US soldier saw the Navajo riding away on his horse. It was then that the peace treaty disintegrated into a full-fledged battle.

Colonel Washington commanded the Navajo tribe to stop and peacefully return the horse to them. By this time, Sandoval and the stolen horse has long disappeared. When the Navajo did not comply, the US army fired a cannon at them. As a result, Narbona was badly wounded and then scalped by a US soldier.

This failure of the peaceful endeavor ultimately led to the Long Walks, a forced 300-mile journey from Arizona to New Mexico. Kit Carson was dispatched into the land of the Navajo in 1863 to retrieve a surrender. But when no Navajo came to greet him, he ordered his troops to burn the land. Hundreds of Navajo were starved while thousands more were captured and taken to Bosque Redondo near Fort Summer.

On this 300-mile walk, many people starved and died due to the disparaging and crowded conditions. Together with the Mescalero Apache, the camps were meant for a maximum of 5,000 people. Yet more than 9,000 people were crammed into them and the supplies were nowhere near adequate.

The government supplies were often rancid.

Powdered milk, yeast or baking powder, sugar, salt, flour, and lard were not up to edible standards. It was from these trying times and few ingredients that fry bread came into existence. Since that time, sweet fry bread has become one of the most common food items and a staple for many tribes.

For some people, Indian fry bread is more than just food, it is a sacred tradition. It is to be eaten by people until the earth has been purified once again.

The American Indian Exposition in Oklahoma hosted the first National Fry Bread Contest in 1993. The overall aim of this event was to help promote Native American arts and crafts and to preserve their cultural heritage. This expo also hosted one of the largest American parades in Oklahoma.

In 2005, South Dakota officially designated Indian sweet fry bread as the Official State Bread with House Bill Number 1205.

Nowadays fry bread is mostly used as a base for Indian Taco with minced beef or any other taco filling of the consumer’s choice. The National Indian Taco Championship is the name of a famous festival held in Oklahoma.

What is the Sweet Fry Bread Recipe?

Let go through this one by one. The main ingredients you need for a perfect batch of easy Indian sweets are:

  • Extra flour to coat your hands
  • Vegetable oil for frying the bread
  • ½ Cup of water
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of powdered milk
  • ¼ teaspoon of salt
  • 1 cup of unbleached flour

The total prep time is 15 minutes. Cooking from scratch can take up to 8 minutes. The overall yield is four servings.

Directions:

Mix the baking powder, powdered milk, salt, and flour into a large bowl first. Add the water over this mixture. Keep on stirring it till it forms a big clump. Flour your hands and begin mixing the dough. Aim to get all the flour into the mixture and form a ball.

Make sure that you are mixing it well, not kneading it. Kneading the mixture will make the fry bread heavier while cooking.

Note that the inside of the dough should be sticky as it is being formed while the outside should be coated well with flour. Once you are done, cut the dough into four equal pieces. Make use of your floured hands and begin patting, stretching, and shaping. Form a disk up to seven inches in diameter.

Do not worry about making a perfect circle.

Next, make use of a heavy pot and begin heating the vegetable oil to approximately 350°F. The oil should be at least an inch deep. If you want to check the temperature of the oil, you can drop a small piece of the dough that you have prepared into the pot and see if it begins to fry.

Alternatively, you can also use the end of a stilted spoon and dip it in the oil. If it bubbles, then the oil is hot and ready for frying.

Once the oil is hot, you can begin placing the roughly-shaped dough into it. Be very careful during this process as the hot oil might splatter. With the help of a spoon, submerge the dough so that it fries properly in the hot oil.

Keep frying the dough till it is completely brown and then flip it to the other side. It shouldn’t take more than four minutes to cook each side. Once done, place the fry bread on a paper towel to absorb the excess oil. The Indian snack is ready to serve.

What are the Different Ways to Serve and Eat Indian Fry Bread?

Some different methods by which you can eat Indian fry bread are:

  • You can make an Indian Taco and add your favorite ingredients to it
  • You can sift powdered sugar onto the top
  • You can also sprinkle the bread with a cinnamon and sugar mixture
  • Honey and softened butter go well together on the top of fry bread
  • Simply eat it as soon as it’s out of the fryer!

Nutritional value of the Sweet fry bread

One 8-inch piece of sweet fry bread consists of:

  1. Calories: 466
  2. Total Fat: 22g (Trans Fat 0.2g, Saturated Fat 6.7g)
  3. Total Carbohydrates: 58g (Sugars 0.2g, Dietary Fiber 2g)
  4. Potassium: 80mg
  5. Sodium: 787mg
  6. Cholesterol 8.5mg
  7. Protein: 7.7g
  8. Iron: 22%
  9. Calcium: 25%
  10. Vitamin C: 0%
  11. Vitamin A: 0%

Different Varieties

Typically, healthy Indian sweets consist of baking powder, oil, salt, water, and flour. All these ingredients are first mixed together to form a dough and then covered with a cloth till it rises. Once done, they are given a simple shape and then deep-fried in cooking oil. For this procedure, you will find a variety of additions and different cooking methods.

Some people substitute the mayonnaise for oil in the dough, which causes the fry bread to be crunchy and crispy. Some also make use of yogurt or sour milk instead of baking powder to raise the dough, although it can take a longer period of time for the dough to be ready.

Most fry bread recipes also do not make use of yeast or baking powder since it is a hard ingredient to find among Native people. Normally, they mix the dough early in the morning and leave it on a cloth for the whole day.

Primarily, there are two variations of fry bread. These are:

1. Meskwaki Indian fry bread

Ingredients:

  • Two cups of warm water
  • ½ teaspoon of sugar
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • Four teaspoons of baking powder
  • Four cups of flour

Directions:

Mix and sift all the dry ingredients into a large bowl at first. In small amounts, add water while mixing with your hand. Make sure that you add just enough water so that the dough does not turn out too sticky. Just like pizza dough, keep on mixing it properly and knead it for five minutes. Let the dough sit idle for the next 40 minutes.

In the meantime, heat the oil in a heavy pot. Fill at least two inches of the pot with oil (preferably canola oil). Then form small balls out of the dough and place them on your cutting board. Press the balls till they are shaped like discs.

Next, lay the dough into the hot oil. Make sure that the outer edge turns golden brown before flipping it onto the other side. When your fry bread reaches the desired color, remove them and place them on a paper towel, which will drain off any excess oil that remains. Additionally, you can make an indentation in the center of your fry bread to hold the Taco ingredients.

2.Yeast fluffy sweet fry bread

Ingredients:

  • Two cups of warm water
  • One teaspoon of salt
  • Five cups of bluebird flour or flour
  • Two tablespoons of sugar
  • One package of yeast

Directions:

First, warm up the water in a microwave for at least ten seconds. Then pour warm water into the bowl and sprinkle the package of yeast int it until it fully dissolves. Also, add salt to the solution. Next, add the sugar, flour and stir it. Lastly, add warm water until the solution becomes thick.

Start making the dough. Cut the dough into half and pat some flour onto it. Make a shape of a ball out of it and let it rise. You will see the solution begin to rise within mere minutes. Drip some oil into a pan and add some vegetables to it. Try to avoid lard as it can block your arteries and is bad for your health.

Once the oil is hot, put the flat dough in it and let it fry. Make sure to not let it fry for too long. Once the color changes to a golden hue, take the dough out and put it on a paper towel. This will absorb all the extra oil from your fluffy sweet fry bread. Adorn how you wish. You can eat it with ground beef, mutton, or even powdered sugar.

Conclusion

As stated above, sweet fry bread is a traditional American Indian quick bread recipe that can be served either savory or as a native American dessert. You can serve it with beef or stew or drizzle with honey too, whatever suits your tastes. Whatever you do, this food item should definitely be on your to-taste list whenever you visit Colorado or Oklahoma.

Peter Allen

Peter Allen

Peter's path through the culinary world has taken a number of unexpected turns. After starting out as a waiter at the age of 16, he was inspired to go to culinary school and learn the tricks of the trade. As he delved deeper, however, his career took a sudden turn when a family friend needed someone to help manage his business. Peter now scratches his culinary itch on the internet by blogging, sharing recipes, and socializing with food enthusiasts worldwide.

Comments (1)

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    Don Townsend

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    Don’t forget New Mexico. We have a wide variety of native peoples, from the Taos pueblos to the Apache, to the Navajo, and many others. The Gathering Of Nations is held in Albuquerque. Come see us for a great experience, and see all we have to offer!

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