Vegetarian Indian Tacos – Recipe

Navajo Tacos
Vegetarian Indian Tacos (on Navajo fry bread)

Navajo Fry Bread, and the Indian Tacos made with it, have a sad and storied past. They originated in Native American internment camps set up by the US government in the 1860s, as a way to use the very limited rations provided. Cynthia Detteric-Pineda has an excellent page with the details of that history and a recipe for the bread (which I've adapted slightly, below).

Today, fry bread and Indian tacos are a proud part of the culture, served at virtually every pow-wow. And with good reason; besides the history, they are delicious.

Fry bread is so much more filling than a corn tortilla that a single one of these, loaded up with flavorful toppings, makes a whole meal. If you have any dough left over, it is a treat fryed up and served with powdered sugar or honey.

Be careful not to knead the dough any more than is absolutely necessary to bring it together, because you want it to remain tender. For the same reason, it works best if you fry it until just medium golden brown, not as dark as I show in the picture above. You might also try using 1/3 pastry flour, especially if your all-purpose flour is higher in gluten, like King Arthur brand.

I served my tacos with pinto beans, a spicy saute of summer squash, poblano peppers, and corn, guacamole, cheddar cheese, onions, cherry tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, and a homemade hot sauce (but made with smoky morita and California dried peppers).

Iceberg lettuce? I love iceberg lettuce. There, I said it. It is crispy, cool, refreshing and just slightly bitter. It got a bad rap because it was the only lettuce used in American salads for like 40 years. Hey snobby pants: get over it and use it when it fits the bill. Agree?

Be sure and read through this whole recipe first; in the ingredient list I'm calling for several sub-recipes and prepared components that take signficant time.

Indian Tacos (with Navajo fry bread)
Vegetarian
Serves 4
Time varies depending on whether you are using pre-cooked beans and pre-made salsa

For the fry bread:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 cup milk (and maybe a little more)
  • oil for frying (3/4" deep in a big skillet)
  1. Whisk together the dry ingredients. Add the milk and mix with a fork until you have a shaggy mass, adding a little more milk if needed. You want a dough that is just barely not-sticky-enough to roll out. With floured hands, knead for just a few seconds to make a ball. Oil and set aside until you are ready to fry.
  2. When ready to fry (just before serving, they are best fresh), bring a skillet filled with 3/4" of oil to 365 degrees F. Divide the dough into 4 balls and roll each one out to about 9" in diameter. Fry one at a time until medium golden brown (not as dark as the photograph), flipping to cook both sides. Be careful when flipping – they are big enough that if you just flop over with a spatula it can cause a dangerous splash. I used a spatula and a spoon to control them. Remove to paper towels to drain.

For the sauteed topping:

  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1/2 onion, fine dice
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound yellow summer squash, bite-sized cubes (about 3 medium)
  • kernels from 2 ears of corn
  • 4 poblano peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded, and cut into strips (rajas) (use rubber gloves to avoid burning skin)
  • 2 teaspoons Mexican oregano
  • salt
  1. Heat the oil in a big skillet over a medium-high flame. Fry the the onion and garlic for 1 minute, then add the summer squash and 3/4 teaspoon of salt. Cook, tossing occasionally, until browned; add the corn and cook 2 minutes; add the poblanos and oregano and heat through. Taste and adjust seasoning.

For assembly:

  • 3 cups tender cooked pinto beans (homemade or canned)
  • 1 cup grated cheddar
  • 1/2 cup minced white onion
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
  • 1 1/2 cups killer guacamole
  • homemade hot sauce (but with morita and California dried peppers)
  1. Put a fry bread on each plate, and top with generous portions of beans, the squash saute cheese, onion, tomatoes, lettuce, guacamole and hot sauce. Serve immediately.
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Posted by Michael Natkin on Tuesday, September 7th, 2010 in Kid Friendly, Main Courses, Recipes.

26 Responses to “Vegetarian Indian Tacos – Recipe”

  1. September 7, 2010 at 7:40 am #

    This sounds incredible. And, I’m visiting Arizona right now. It seems like I should be able to find something very much like this here, but I haven’t seen fry bread on any menus yet.

    • AZlady
      February 12, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

      There aren’t a lot of Native American dishes on menus anywhere in the parts of Arizona you are likely visiting. You will have to go to specific fry bread houses to get tacos like this, there are a couple in the Phoenix Metro area. I can’t guarantee you will find anything in any other city, unless you are visiting a reservation (though some parts of the Navajo rez might be you bet bet bc its the most tourist-friendly with Canyon de Chelly and other attractions, many other reservations are not tourist-friendly). Just educate yourself before visiting anywhere, not all areas of the reservations are friendly to non-Natives, and there is still a lot of anger held towards white people due to the long-storied history of Native American persecution.

  2. September 7, 2010 at 1:07 pm #

    It’s been too long since I’ve had fry bread. I’m too much of a wimp to try it on the stove at home, though… maybe I can convince a friend to try it. Thanks for sharing this recipe!

  3. Michael Natkin
    September 7, 2010 at 7:45 pm #

    @Lisa – you might have to seek out a a pow-wow, or more of a street-food scene, might be hard to find in a restaurant especially in the city. Although try googling "phoenix indian tacos" if that is where you are, I see someplace called "The Fry Bread House" and a few others that sounds interesting.

  4. September 8, 2010 at 9:28 am #

    Initially I thought of Indian from India… I suppose that we say Native American (or at least this is what you say if you live outside the USA) and refer to Indians for the Indian Subcontinent ethnic people only (wherever they may live. Is it different in the USA?

    I love fried bread… I could eat it everyday…good to have a Navajo recipe :-)

  5. Michael Natkin
    September 8, 2010 at 9:43 am #

    @Alessandra – it is a funny thing! The "politically correct" term is Native American in the US as well, however the majority of Native Americans call themselves Indians. And this dish is universally known as Indian Tacos by the people that make and eat them. I thought about calling them Native American Tacos but no-one has ever heard of those, so it would just be confusing.

  6. September 8, 2010 at 11:18 pm #

    I love the idea of combining two cultures, Mexican and Indian cuisines. I am doing some cooking myself on canning salsa recipes and I think I’ll try this one out one of these days.

  7. September 9, 2010 at 5:58 pm #

    I’m glad you stood up for iceberg. I’m right there with you. I’m going to make this recipe some day, maybe with a different hot sauce (chili peppers still intimidate me) because every time I think about it my mouth waters. Biofeedback is on your side, buddy.

  8. September 10, 2010 at 6:33 am #

    Absolutely delicious. The hot sauce is to die for. I made it just like you suggested with the iceberg lettuce. I will admit I usually do not eat iceberg anymore usually romaine or other dark lettuces. I do agree that iceberg has gotten a bad rap. This recipe felt more traditional with the iceberg.

    Very tasty.

  9. September 10, 2010 at 10:50 am #

    The name alone makes me want to try this recipe! This sounds absolutely wonderful; I especially like the part about the poblano peppers

  10. rebecca
    September 10, 2010 at 2:13 pm #

    Looks good and I like your site, but to be fair, the problem with iceberg lettuce is not that people are snobs against it, but the fact that it has virtually zero nutrients, while other kinds have loads. I do like the crunch, but the inside portions of romaine lettuce have that also.

  11. September 12, 2010 at 2:35 pm #

    thanks for the recipe! it looks delicious!

  12. Elizabeth Swigar
    September 19, 2010 at 7:17 am #

    My mouth is watering just looking at these recipes. – Elizabeth Swigar

  13. Stephanie
    March 2, 2011 at 7:38 pm #

    Ooh, I can’t wait to try this, I haven’t had fry bread since my trips to the Navajo reservation in the 80’s, I loved it though! We ate it both savory with beans and sweet with honey, delicious both ways :)

  14. ChicagoCook
    April 14, 2011 at 7:56 am #

    Yum! Made this last night for myself and the boyfriend. I think my dough could have come together better–for some reason, dough never really works for me. So I ended up having to knead it a bit more than called for. But it still turned out really well. I added a mix of sauteed onions, garlic, summer squash, spinach and corn on top, along with guac and some pinto beans. My boyfriend quickly named it “one of the best things I’ve ever made.” Of course, that could be because I almost never fry anything, but, hey, I’ll take it. Thanks!

    P.S. Iceberg lettuce, while I don’t eat it often, is PERFECT with Mexican foods–lots of crunch and coolness that doesn’t intrude on any flavors.

  15. Michael Natkin
    April 18, 2011 at 7:55 pm #

    @ChicagoCook – I'm so glad it was a hit for you! If the dough isn't coming together, sometimes you may just need to add a bit more liquid. It can depend on humidity and the exact type of flour you have and how you measure it. And I totally agree with you about the iceberg. It has a place!

  16. May 3, 2011 at 10:27 am #

    Made these last night for my husband, and they were delicious Michael. Great recipe, highly recommended!

  17. October 27, 2011 at 4:00 am #

    Wow, my mouth is just watering from looking at these great recipes! I love how you have mixed two different types of cuisines together – Navajo and Indian. The origins of this dish is also very interesting to read about. Tonight will be my first attempt at fry bread, hope it comes out as well as yours!

  18. January 30, 2012 at 9:42 am #

    I can’t believe I never saw this on here before! My omni husband is always raving about indian tacos and I’ve been meaning to make a vegetarian version. These look fantastic! Yes, you definitely want to wear gloves when seeding those little devils. My 16 month old son can attest to that. I had washed my hands 3 times and the oils still made it into his eyes (and with company over, no less.) Okay I got a little off track there, just wanted to say thanks for a great recipe!

    • January 30, 2012 at 9:48 am #

      Oh, ow! That is one of those parenting moments you wish you could roll back.

  19. Adrienne
    June 15, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    The fry bread was a disaster for me…apparently you need to let it sit for half an hour before frying and knead them super well. I found a video that explains very well how to do this link to youtube.com

    • June 15, 2013 at 5:23 pm #

      I’m sorry to hear it was a disaster! Can you tell me how it went wrong? I haven’t had any problems with it myself.

      • Adrienne
        June 16, 2013 at 7:45 am #

        The bread came out super hard, like the texture of a cookie, and tasted like plain flour. I used whole wheat flour instead of white, I don’t know if that makes a difference.

        • June 16, 2013 at 8:32 am #

          Ah, yes, I wouldn’t think 100% whole wheat would work well in this recipe, I’d expect it would come out dense and tough. Maybe like 20% whole wheat, 80% white might be ok. Also, you might want to check and make sure your baking powder is still active.

          • Adrienne
            June 16, 2013 at 11:57 am #

            The powder is definitely active, I baked with it last week. You may want to add in the recipe it’s important to use finely ground flour if that’s important to getting the bread right, there are some out there like me who use whole wheat. Thanks for getting back to me.

  20. Grickles
    November 25, 2014 at 6:18 pm #

    My gal and I have made this dish twice! It is freakin delish! Even the kids love it. Thanks for the great recipe :D

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