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Yuma experts share secrets to making Indian fry bread
For more information about the contest coming up June 16 at Paradise Casino, write to email@example.com.
- Click here to view slideshow on frybread preparation
“I really like your frybread, but don't tell my mom.”
How many times will the contestants hear that during the Indian Frybread competition being held June 16 at Paradise Casino?
Recently I was lucky enough to share a day of cooking with Michele Eagleman and Monique Escalanti in my kitchen. Mom Michele and daughter Monique are from the Quechan and Turtle Mountain Ojibwa tribes.
This time in the kitchen I was to be the student and together they taught me the fine art of how to make delicious frybread. While making the bread they shared the story behind the frybread, about families developing recipes and cooking the frybread together, teaching the youths and passing the family recipe down through generations. This great mother/daughter team taught me a few secrets and helped me make my family some mighty tasty bread. Frybread making is a family affair and I only hope I'm invited to one of these great meals they kept telling me about.
The Indian frybread recipe was developed out of necessity. In 1860 approximately 8,000 Navajo natives were imprisoned at Fort Summer, New Mexico. They had been moved from their homes where they had livestock and vegetable gardens. The U.S. government provided the native people at Fort Summer and other reservations with some commodities such as flour, lard and sugar. As you can see, Indian frybread was created as a means of survival. It has now become an important staple in the diet of American Indian people and also a great source of pride.
It might have been a means of survival in the 1800s, but it has become a family favorite in so many of the native American families. Recipes are closely guarded even to the point that when a girl marries into a family she is not allowed to give her mom's recipe away or share with her mom recipes from her husband's families.
I remember making my first frybread. It was my turn to feed the masses at the family ranch in Eagleville during one of our family get-togethers. I was in college and my aunts assigned a dinner for my cousin and me to cook and serve. I wanted to impress all my aunts, uncles and cousins so I scoured cook book after cook book for something different. I am not sure where I found the recipe but I remember it sounded like a fun turn on tacos. The day of the dinner I spent the afternoon cooking the hamburger, chopping lettuce, tomatoes and shredding the cheese. I was ready. I made my dough and rolled it into balls, then flattened it for the pancake. I had my oil hot on that wood stove and started dropping them in. I fed about 50 people that night, my frybreads were little and nothing like what Michele and Monique taught me.
Everyone got fed that night, but I remember my Uncle Merrill coming up to me after dinner and saying “Karla, not sure what those things were, but let's not do them again.” Oh Uncle Merrill, if only I could make these for you now. I know you would love them.
Frybread is very versatile. It can be used as bread accompanying a meal. You can use it to hold the meal such as bean, meat, cheese or it can be dessert with honey, cinnamon, powdered sugar or fresh berries and cream.
The frybread recipe that Michele and Monique have given me to share with you is one that Monique has developed for Paradise Casino. This is not the well-guarded family recipe that they expect to win the upcoming competition with, but is a good one making a light, great tasting bread.
Hints from Michele when making your dough for the frybread:
• Use your hands as you mix up your batter
• Don't over mix your dough, it should be wet-looking
• Once you have it mixed, place a wet paper towel over the bowl and let it sit and rest.
• The dough will puff and rise and you will know it is ready to make into balls.
• No two frybreads are the same, each piece being a work of art.
• A hole in the middle of the bread is normal and helps it cook correctly.
Makes about 15 large breads
2 1/2 pounds self-rising flour
1 ounce baking powder
3 1/2 fluid ounces half and half
4 ounces lemon lime soda
1/2 ounce salt
14 fluid ounces water
Mix dry ingredients in bowl. Warm wet ingredients. Work together with hands in bowl. Do not over mix — the dough will be sticky.
Lightly sprinkle with flour, cover and let rest.
Spread dough out on floured board and cut out with round cookie or biscuit cutter
In a deep heavy pot, heat the corn oil or lard to about 350 degrees F. You can check if your oil is hot enough by dropping a small piece of dough in the hot oil and seeing if it begins to fry. The oil should be about 1-inch deep in a large cast-iron skillet or other large heavy pot.
Take cut dough and spread in your hands to about a 6-inch circle and gently place it into the oil. Press down on the dough as it fries so the top is submerged into the hot oil. Fry until brown, and then flip to fry the other side. Each side will take approximately 3 to 4 minutes to cook. Place the cooked frybread on a paper towel to absorb excess oil.
Frybread can be kept warm in a 200 degree F. oven for up to 1 hour. They refrigerate well and can be reheated in a 350 degree F oven for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.
Karla Billdt works as a personal chef in Yuma and owns Karla's Kreations.