Navajo Tacos

Navajo Taco

Navajo tacos bring back good college days memories for me. They filled me up after a day of skiing and got me through finals more than once.

I remember the first time that I encountered a Navajo taco was at BYU’s “Cougar Eat”. Dinner plate-sized Indian fry bread was covered with chili, then piled high with lettuce, tomatoes, cheese and a dollop of sour cream. Sometimes, I would split a Navajo taco with a roommate, but more often than not I would eat the whole thing all by myself. (Oink, oink!)

Indian fry bread is made from a simple dough which is rolled into a flat circle and then fried in hot oil. I have found that fried dough is always amazing, whether it shows up as a doughnut, a funnel cake, a fritter or fry bread.

Indian Fry Bread {Navajo Taco}

As expected, recipe sources vary in their listed ingredients in and methods of handling fry bread dough. The more I read about fry bread, the more confused I became–yeast vs baking powder; eggs vs no eggs; shortening vs no shortening; milk vs water. One aspect on which all of the recipes agreed, however, is that fry bread is not sweet. It can be eaten plain or topped with honey butter, or used as a base for a Navajo taco. I imagine that a good Southerner would find it lip smacking good with sorghum syrup and sour cream.

A web page by the Manataka American Indian Council finally answered all of my questions regarding fry bread recipes. On their web page, Cookin’ with Three Sisters, various fry bread recipes are accredited to each of nine different Native American tribes. After trial and error, I chose a Creek Indian fry bread recipe. With its four simple ingredients of flour, baking powder, salt and buttermilk, it was very easy and worked well for me each time I made it.

The remainder of the toppings for a Navajo Taco are similar to Mexican-style tacos. I prefer a chili topping on my fry bread, but others may prefer simple,  seasoned ground beef and pinto beans. Canned chili or left-over chili works very well, too. I’ve included a simple, flavorful chili recipe for these Navajo tacos, just in case you are feeling rock-starish.

Navajo Taco

Navajo Tacos

Prep Time: 45 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Yield: 6 servings


    For the Chili:
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 1 teaspoon granulated onion
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 (4 ounce) can whole green chiles, small diced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 (15 ounce) can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
  • 1/3 cup water
  • For the Indian fry bread:
  • 2 cups white all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • neutral flavored cooking oil
  • Suggested toppings:
  • chopped lettuce
  • diced tomatoes
  • sliced black olives
  • grated cheddar or jack cheese


    For the Chili
  1. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add ground beef, onion, granulated garlic, granulated onion, salt and pepper (to taste). Lower heat to medium, break up ground beef well. Cook until onion is translucent, stirring as needed.
  2. Add green chiles, cumin, chili powder, pinto beans, tomatoes,tomato sauce, tomato paste and water. Stir well. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook over medium low or low heat for 45 minutes, stirring as needed.
  3. For the Indian fry bread:
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  5. Add the buttermilk and stir to incorporate. The dough will seem to be dry and will not hold together well. At this point, gather the dough together in the bowl and knead until relatively smooth. If the dough is sticky, flour may be added 1 tablespoonful at a time, being careful to knead between flour additions. Only add enough flour to keep the dough from being sticky.
  6. Cover dough with plastic wrap and allow to rest for 30 minutes.
  7. In a large frying pan, pour cooking oil to a depth of 1/2-inch. Heat to 375-degrees F. Divide dough into six equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball. On a lightly floured surface, flatten each ball into a thin, approximately 6-inch, circle with your hands or a rolling pin.
  8. Working with one piece of dough at a time, place it carefully in the hot oil. Cook until bottom is golden brown, about 2 minutes, then turn over and cook the other side until also golden brown. Note: Bubbles will form in the fry bread as it cooks; this is normal. If a bubble is particularly large, gently puncture it with a fork or sharp knife while it is cooking and carefully press the fork against the bubble to deflate. It doesn't have to be perfectly flat.
  9. Move cooked fry bread to a paper towel lined platter or baking sheet to drain; cover with additional paper towels.
  10. To serve: top fry bread with chili, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, black olives and sour cream.

Navajo Taco

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  1. says

    Hi Tina. They get slightly puffy and are somewhat hollow, but not like a beignet. The flavor is quite plain, and the texture tends more towards the chewy side. Yes, you can make them smaller and serve as a sort of mini Navajo taco appetizer (which would be fun!). If you are thinking of serving them without any toppings, I do not think that you will be happy with the outcome. These tend more towards the “rustic” side. Definitely test before making these to serve at a party. By my third time of making the dough and cooking the fry bread, I felt as though I was really getting the hang of it. ~Terri

  2. Dalila G. says

    Now this is something I’m willing to try.
    I’ve never had one, heard of them, but never had one.
    They do look tasty and they also look like a fun food, a lunch or dinner fun get together for friends.
    I probably will have to make the fry bread a couple of times before I feel comfortable feeding it to friends, but I see happy faces in my kitchen pretty soon.
    The thing I like best is the variety of toppings you can choose from. Some people like this or that while the other half doesn’t, this way everyone is happy! 🙂

    • says

      Yep, practice a couple of times. You’ll get the hang of it pretty fast. Expect the first batch to be…ummmm…not quite right. Eat the first batch right away with some honey butter; they’ll taste better nice and hot. You’ll also get a sense of the texture. They are not at all like a bread with yeast in it. Be sure to pat or roll the dough thin, maybe about 1/8-inch thick at the most. Otherwise, they will turn out thick and heavy. ~Terri

  3. says

    What a lovely taco… I love that you used Indian Fry bread as the base. I remember a long time ago I made Indian fried bread when I saw a recipe for it in a cookbook from the library….. thanks for reminding me how great it is. 🙂

    • says

      Thanks, Ramona. I was too chicken for a long time to make fry bread–maybe because I live in an area where there are too many people who know how “real” Indian is supposed to look and taste. Once I saw all of the different recipes on an official Native American website and watched a number of You Tube videos, I felt more secure.

  4. says

    Terri, not only is your photo perfection but your recipe sounds absolutely divine!! I seriously want one. Now!! Is there such a thing as a 1:44 a.m. snack? Sort of like a midnight snack? Well you are definitely a very rock-starish!!

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