Native American frybread, or Indian frybread, is a rather contentious subject. Essentially, frybread is a simple, chewy flatbread made with white flour, which is then fried in oil. It can be eaten as is, with something sweet like sugar or honey, or served up taco style, hence the name, Indian taco.
Today’s post is unchartered territory for me. While I have eaten the odd home cooked Native American fare when I was living in London, I know next to nothing about it. So let me tell you why I’m doing this post.
Recently, a fellow blogger friend of mine and I decided to work together, creating posts with a common theme. Monika and her husband, Petar, are travel bloggers over at TravelWorldOnline. The idea is that they would talk about a place they’ve been to, and a related food, and I do the recipe. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
Our first collaboration was actually an old post of mine, Rillettes de Canard or Potted Duck, a dish perfect for Christmas. On her blog, the related post was on Canada, where Monika and Petar had enjoyed Rillettes de Canard.
Native American Frybread
So this month’s collaboration is the Indian frybread, Indian as in Native American. It is essentially flattened, fried dough and bears a huge similarity in its ingredients to so many flatbreads around the world, notably the (south Asian) Indian paratha.
To write up this post, I had to look up a whole lot of different sources, because don’t forget, I was starting from zero. I needed to get a feel for the Indian frybread, where it came from, how it came about and what it means today.
One of the first things I did was to get my hands on The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen, a goldmine of information and Native recipes that are stylishly presented. However, to my surprise, what it didn’t have, was a recipe of frybread! But more of that later.
Other sources I looked up included PWNA (Partnership with Native Americans), Smithsonian Magazine, NBC News, What’s Cooking America, Indian Country Today, and a few other “smaller” sites. I wasn’t really interested in the actual recipe itself, which is as basic as you can get. It was the story that I was after. And that, let me tell you, made for some very interesting reading, which I’ve tried my best to condense.
As mentioned right at the start, frybread is controversial. While many (most?) Native Americans are happy to embrace it as a traditional Native food, there are some who reject the idea.
History of Frybread
So how did frybread come about and why is it so contentious?
Frybread was created in the mid 19th century on an Indian reservation, by the Navajo people. This was a time when many Indians in the South East and the South West were relocated from their lands by the US government against their will.
The forced removal of the Navajo tribe from their lands in the South West to the Bosque Redondo Reservation became known as The Long Walk. In the dead of winter, many were killed as they made the 300-mile, 2-month long trek to the internment camp in New Mexico. You can read more about The Long Walk here.
It was in this overpopulated reservation, that the frybread was born as a means to an end. The Indians had to make do with whatever basic rations were given to them, so as not to starve. Gone was their diet of fresh foods obtained from the land, to be replaced by the unhealthy, processed subsistence born out of necessity.
And it was this recipe that was passed down from generation to generation.
Indian Frybread Recipe
We’ve established the fact that the recipe itself is very basic. All you need is:
- water (some people use milk)
- baking powder
- oil to fry it in
In my cultural education of the frybread, I’d also seen the odd recipe with egg in it. I passed on that, as the majority didn’t have egg and two of my kids have egg allergies.
There are variations to the recipes that I saw, but the differences were fairly minimal, apart from the milk or water issue. Most recipes I saw used water, so that’s what I went with too.
I found that the more water you use, the softer the bread. And also, the thicker the rolled out dough, the more chewy the bread.
In these photos, the 4th time I made them, I rolled the bread out with a rolling pin, and fairly thinly. You can see that they are bordering on the crispy, especially at the edges. I definitely prefer the more traditional, thicker frybread rolled out by hand, giving a more rustic result.
This ain’t no Diet Food!
Bien au contraire, mes amis! The fact that the Native American frybread is one calorie-ladened plate of heaven, is yet another reason why it provokes much debate.
Remember me saying somewhere above that I got Sean Sherman’s The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen? Imagine my surprise when I started reading it only to find that he doesn’t feature this much loved Indian bread in his book, nor in his restaurant. This is one of the reasons why, says Sherman:
frybread contributes to high levels of diabetes and obesity that affect nearly one-half of the Native population…(the frybread) weighs in at 700 calories and contains 25 grams of fat. When you pile on the processed cheese and potted meats of an Indian taco, you’ve got a recipe for chronic illness and pain.Extract from The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen
And that’s probably why some chefs have come up with the no fry version of frybread. I came across a recipe by Red Mesa Cuisine that cooks the bread in a skillet or on an open flame, not unlike the chapati and a host of other flatbreads around the world.
However, despite the bad calorie press it gets and its unhappy beginnings, the frybread is a much loved Native American tradition. Today, no Native American gathering or the regular pow wow is complete without the presence of the frybread served on little paper plates.
How to Serve Indian Frybread
You can have it sweet or you can have it savoury.
- with a heavy sprinkle of cinnamon sugar
- with honey drizzled all over
- with taco meat and whatever trimmings you fancy (I’m giving you the taco meat recipe)
And that brings me to the end of today’s post. I hope it was as good for you as it was for me! 😉
How about we get our aprons on?
More Flatbread Recipes on LinsFood
If you fancy a hand at more flatbread recipes from around the world, here are some ideas:
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Native American Frybread (Indian Frybread with Indian Taco Recipe)
- 300 g (10.5 oz) AP flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp white sugar
- 250 ml (1 cup) warm water (place it in the microwave oven for 1 minute, then get everything else ready)
- vegetable oil (enough to come up about ½ an inch up your frying pan)
- 1 large onion
- 1 Tbsp EV olive oil
- 500 g (1.1 lb) lean minced beef (5%-10% fat)
- 2 Tbsp sundried tomato paste
- 125 ml (½ cup) water
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 Tbsp chilli powder
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp onion powder
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp dried oregano
Indian Taco Topping (as you fancy)
- iceberg lettuce
- freshly grated cheddar cheese
- tomatoes, chopped
- avocado, chopped
- chopped, pickled jalapeños
- 8 tsp white sugar
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon (more or less, to taste)
Make the frybread dough
- Place the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a bowl, and mix lightly.
- Pour in ¾ of the warm water, stirring with a wooden spoon as you do so.
- Mix it all with the spoon, until you get a soft dough that comes away from the bowl. Add more water if you need it, stop as soon as the dough comes away from the bowl. You'll have a fairly soft, sticky dough.
- Sprinkle some flour over the dough, cover with clingfilm and leave to rest for 30 minutes.
Rolling out the frybread
- Flour your work surface liberally and tip the sticky dough onto it.
- Dust your hands with some flour and flatten the dough slightly. Divide it into 8 parts. Take 2 tiny, tiny pinches of the dough and set aside to test the oil later.
- Take one piece and either roll out with a rolling pin or use your fingers to flatten out to about 15cm (6 inches) in diameter. The thinner the dough, the less chewy and crispier the frybread will be.
- Place the flattened bread onto a floured plate and rub some flour over it. Then cover with a damp tea towel. Move on to the next portion, and repeat the process. Pile your dough onto each other, being sure to dust each bread with flour to stop from sticking. And be sure to cover with the damp cloth to stop them from drying out.
Frying the frybread
- Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan on medium-high heat, making sure that it's about 1½ cm (½ an inch) high.
- Double line a plate with kitchen paper to soak up excess oil, and set aside.
- When the oil is shimmering, drop in a tiny piece of dough. If it comes up immediately, you know the oil is hot enough. If not, repeat in a minute or two.
- Flip your pile of frybreads over, so we will start with the first one we rolled out. This is the one that has had the most resting time, which means that the gluten has had a chance to relax.
- Pick the bread up, dust off excess flour by transferring it from hand to hand a couple of times, then slowly slip it into the hot oil. It will begin to puff up immediately. Cook for 1 minute, then flip over to the other side. Cook until a golden brown colour, then lift and place on the paper lined plate.
- Repeat with the rest of the breads. Serve with taco and topping or the cinnamon sugar.
- Chop up the onion.
- Heat the oil on medium heat and fry the onion for 1 minute.
- Increase the heat to medium-high and add the mince. Brown the mince for 2 minutes, breaking it up with a spatula.
- Tip in the taco seasoning ingredients and fry for 30 seconds.
- Add the sundried tomato paste and stir to mix.
- Add the water and mix well. Cook on low heat for 10 minutes, until the water is all gone and you have a dry mix. Finish off with the black pepper.
- Mix the sugar and cinnamon together.