When reservations were created in the mid-1800s, the U.S. government promised to supply Native Americans with "commodity" foods to replace the subsistence foods that were no longer available to them. For European Americans, a basic commodity is wheat, so wheat flour became a staple for people whose diets for thousands of years had been based on corn. Over the past 150 years, this change has had many effects on Native American cooking, not the least of which is the invention of fry bread. One of the most popular and delicious (and least healthful) of modern Native foods, fry bread is for many communities both a festival and an everyday food. Recipes and techniques vary, but the result is basically the same: a dough leavened with baking powder and deep-fried until puffed and golden brown.
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for flouring the board
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup milk, plus more if necessary
Corn or canola oil for deep-frying
Sugar mixed with ground cinnamon for topping (optional)
1. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Stir with a whisk to blend. Stir in 3 / 4 cup milk to make a stiff dough, adding a bit more if necessary. On a lightly floured board, divide the dough into 6 pieces. Form each into a ball, then flatten with a rolling pin or pat with fingers into a disk about 1 / 4-inch thick.
2. In a Dutch oven or deep fryer, heat 3 inches of oil to 350 degrees on a deep-fat thermometer. Using a sharp knife, cut an X in the center of each dough disk. Place one disk at a time in the hot oil and cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes on each side. Using tongs, transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Keep warm in a low oven while frying the remaining disks.
3. Serve at once, either plain or sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. Makes six circular flat breads.
From "The Mitsitam Cafe Cookbook: Recipes from the National Museum of the American Indian" by Richard Hetzler. Published by the National Museum of the American Indian in association with Fulcrum Publishing. Copyright © 2010 Smithsonian Institution.