Try this Navajo fry bread

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 15, 2014

You can take the high road or the low road from Santa Fe. Most tourists go one way and come back the other. The low road winds up the Rio Grande where it makes a huge gorge at the elevation of Taos. Not the Grand Canyon but impressive nevertheless. The 1965 bridge is the 5th highest in the US. One of our party elected not to walk out on the bridge to get the view of the river below.

Taos is home to the Taos Pueblo, a site inhabited for about a thousand years. In 1992 Taos Pueblo was inscribed onto the World Heritage List by UNESCO as: The First Living World Heritage. Few live there now as there is no electricity and running water. But many come back for feast days and several work in the pueblo. We had a native boy giving us the tour of this home of “the People of the Red Willow,” which line the stream where those living there go to get water daily. We had some Indian fry bread. They usually serve it to tourists with powdered sugar but one lady was using it for a bun for her hamburgers. We talked with one lady who was painting pottery. She was very proud of her son who had graduated from Dartmouth in New Hampshire, one of the Ivy League schools established to educate the Native Americans. A granddaughter was thinking of going to Wellesley next year. The tribe speaks their native “Tiwa” and have their own school at the pueblo through eighth grade.

We lodged while in Taos, at the former home of Mabel Dodge Luhan, an eccentric easterner who had come west in the early 1900’s and married one of the local Taos Indians, Tony Luhan. She entertained TH Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe, Ansel Adams, Martha Graham among others. Dennis Hooper owned the house in the late 20th century. We visited Dennis Hooper’s grave in the Jesus Nazareno Cemetery near the San Francisco de Asis Church where his funeral was held. The church was made famous by a painting by O’Keeffe. Mabel is buried in the Kit Carson Cemetery (where Kit and his wife are buried) in Taos and Tony Luhan’s grave is at Taos Pueblo. Graves are mostly marked with crosses and highly decorated with ‘stuff.’ We visited Kit Carson’s home in town and an 1804 hacienda. There are no exterior windows or doors in the hacienda for protective purposes, only a portal leading into the courtyard. The Indian pueblos originally did not have doors or windows either, but a hole in the roof and ladders that they could pull up to keep out intruders. There is a lot of art in Taos as well as Santa Fe but the town is smaller and more manageable. We visited all the museums. My favorite was the Millicent Rogers Museum which has a collection of her turquoise and silver jewelry. This style maker, socialite and designer from New York lived in Taos and appeared in photo spreads in ‘Vogue’ and ‘Harper’s Bazaar.’ My husband particularly liked the Taos Art Museum. It was the home of Russian, Nicolai Fechin and is a showcase of not only his paintings but his woodwork. He hand-carved the lintels, staircases, bedsteads, and more, in a combination of Russian Tartar and local styles.

Breakfasts at the Mabel Dodge house were huge and served communally. My husband particularly liked the egg dishes. One special breakfast had spinach with eggs with some herb that I could not define. We had wonderful blueberry corn pancakes, great coffee and fruit. If I return to Taos I would stay longer at the Mabel Dodge House. It is a homey, quirky place. One bathroom has 3 walls of windows and no curtains. Not to worry. DH Lawrence painted designs on all the windows. We also enjoyed a dinner at Doc Martin’s. It is located in the former home of the local MD and has one room known as the delivery where he did in fact deliver babies, in the day. We had a cup of chili for starters. Served with lettuce, tomato and a tortilla on the side, it could have been the meal. But we went on with enchiladas and all the trimmings. Because of a mix-up with the wine we got a free dessert. We boxed it up and had it with coffee back at Mabel’s who always had coffee available.

Upon returning home I found a recipe for Navajo fry bread. This bread is still the traditional bread served at New Mexico fairs, craft show, and Indian powpows. The recipe calls for poking a hole so the bread will rise, but tradition says that poking the hole lets out evil spirits. The bread reminds me of New Orleans’ beignets.

Navajo Fry Bread

Makes 4 servings

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons shortening

2/3 cup lukewarm water

Vegetable oil for frying

Jam, honey, or powdered sugar

In a medium-sized bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt; cut in shortening until mixture has the appearance of fine crumbs. Sprinkle in water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Use a fork to toss until flour is moistened and dough almost cleans side of bowl. Dough should be soft, but not sticky.

On a lightly floured surface, knead dough until smooth. Form into ball, cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Heat oil in a large skillet to 400°F. Tear off a piece of dough about the size of a peach. Pat and stretch until thin and round, about 6-8 inches in diameter.

Poke a hole through the middle and drip into sizzling vegetable oil.

Fry circles, turning once, until golden brown, about 1 minute per side. Bread will puff beautifully. Serve with jam, honey, or powdered sugar.

Another type of bread that you will see on menus is called sopapillas. This bread is much like the Navajo fry bread except it uses yeast and sugar which makes it a sweet bread for dessert and is usually served with honey and cinnamon. It also can be made savory and stuffed with meat and beans.

I would recommend a visit to Taos. It is an enchanting place with so much art and history. Museums are abundant and the food is delicious.