Fry bread is likely one of the most recognizable foods associated with the American Indians. Though not a “traditional food” by definition, it is definitely a cultural favorite.
Traditional foods are defined by being whole, nutrient dense foods, coming directly from nature. They are foods that have a long history of supporting good health.
Fry bread is a food that was created for the American Indians because of the loss of many of those “traditional foods” and so it holds a very special place in the food history of most American Indian tribes.
Fry bread came to be a staple of the diet out of necessity. In the mid-19th century, as American Indians were driven from their native lands, they were housed on reservations created by the Federal Government. They were unable to hunt, fish, or gather foods as they were accustomed. Sheep and goats were killed, orchards and crops were burned. Instead, they were given government commodities that were filled with processed foods such as flour and shortening. Making do with what they were provided, American Indians created fry bread. Thus, fry bread became a “traditional food” as they were using the only foods provided to them.
The government policy that led to tribes being forced on to reservations started a dark period in the history of the American Indians. As a result, fry bread has become a symbol of inter-tribal unity and is an important part of tribal ceremonies and feasts.
Fry bread is amazingly versatile! My favorite is to add cinnamon sugar to the freshly fried bread. Then there is the Indian taco—what could be better?
We often talk about the health aspects of the foods we eat. Since eating fried dough is not one of the healthiest choices, what can be done to still enjoy fry bread which is so rich in history without going overboard?
First, choose a training wheel sized piece over a hub cap sized piece. Yes, I have seen pieces that big! Portion size is a great way of enjoying your food but just choosing to eat less of it. I found the diagram below which gives calorie estimates of fry bread based on the size. The hub cap sized piece has a little less than half of the calories that most of us need for the day.
Another idea is to try using some whole wheat flour. This doesn’t change the fat or calorie content very much but it will add some extra nutrients which aren’t in regular flour.
And finally, try a no-fry fry bread recipe if you eat fry bread often. I know, it isn’t anywhere near as delicious as that fluffy fried dough, but it can be used in much the same way. And it is a lot easier to cook and clean up after!
From Honor the Gift of Food Curriculum-Indian Health Service Division of Diabetes Treatment and Prevention
Another fry bread recipe to try is Pumpkin Fry Bread.
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup pumpkin puree
½ cup honey, maple syrup or granulated sugar
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. baking powder
1 cup warm water or milk (may use more if needed)
1 tbsp. sunflower oil
Combine first seven ingredients plus ½ tbsp. oil in a large mixing bowl. Mix thoroughly and knead until smooth. Use additional liquid as needed. Lightly rub the smooth surface of the finished raw dough with remaining oil. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and allow to rest for 30 minutes to an hour. Heat sufficient oil or shortening in a heavy pot or skillet so that oil is about 3 inches deep and the pot is no more than half full. Heat on stove to medium-high heat (375°).
With lightly floured hands, pinch off small golf ball size pieces of dough and gently flatten each piece in the palm of your hand until it forms a circle of ½ inch thickness. Should be thinner in the middle or make a hole in the center. Rest these pieces on lightly floured surface until ready to fry. The less you handle the dough, the lighter and tenderer the finished breads will be.
Carefully slide each piece of dough into hot oil. Be careful not to splatter! Fry quickly, turning with tongs or slotted spoon. Do not add too many pieces to the oil at once. Remove in 2-4 minutes and allow to drain on paper towels. Dust with powdered sugar while warm.
Makes 20 to 24 small fry bread pieces.
From Enduring Harvest, Native American Foods and Festivals for Every Season, Kavasch