In & Out of the Kitchen: Indian tacos
A few weeks ago, my husband and I were bumping along a dusty, unpaved road in Badlands National Park, looking for wildlife on the grassy plains of Western South Dakota.
A few miles down the road, in Prairie Dog Town, hundreds of brown rodents were looking for predators, and they popped out of their holes, squeaking and twisting their heads around, as we got out of the car for a closer look.
Farther down the crunchy path, when the sign warned that “Bison Are Dangerous,” we decided to stay in the car.
A big ol’ shaggy buffalo, with head and chest so wide and heavy you'd think its nose would fall onto the prairie, grazed on spindly legs only a few feet from our car.
Western South Dakota is a land of beef and bison, on the Great Plains and on your plate.
Even from the parking lot of the Rapid City Regional Airport, you see black angus chewing the yellow-brown grass.
Back home, for health reasons, my husband and I chew very little beef, but on vacation, we always do as the natives do.
In Badlands National Park, just a short walk from our rustic cabin, we dined at Cedar Lodge, the park’s only restaurant, where the young servers, who were Native American and Eastern European, highly recommended an Indian Taco.
This casual dish starts with fry bread, those big round puffs of dough that you'll find at Native American festivals and gatherings across the country. According to legend, Navajo tribes started making fry bread when they were forced onto reservations in the 1860s and given government rations of flour, sugar, salt and lard.
At Cedar Lodge, they make fry bread from scratch, and top it with ground bison, refried beans, lettuce and tomatoes, sour cream and guacamole. The bread is airy and slightly sweet, almost like a doughnut, and nearly covers a dinner plate. With the mountain of toppings, it’s quite dramatic in presentation, a dish that children and teens would have fun putting together.
Indian Tacos have galloped all over the West. In Rapid City, every Tuesday night is Indian Taco night at Millstone’s, a popular restaurant. While visiting Hot Springs, S.D, where visitors soak in warm mineral water that flows down a mountain, we stopped at a diner where I enjoyed an Indian Taco and hubby munched on an elk burger.
Here’s the original recipe from Cedar Lodge. Tourists must ask for it all the time, because a stack of printed recipe cards is propped up next to the cash register.
Fry bread ingredients:
1⁄4 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 cup water (or enough to make a soft dough)
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoon baking powder
32 ounces refried beans
1 pound ground buffalo meat (or beef)
1-2 packages taco seasoning
Chopped lettuce and tomatoes
Mix fry bread ingredients together. Using a big spoon, divide dough into four pieces, drop onto a floured surface and pat down to about an inch thick. Fry in one or two inches of oil at 350 degrees until golden brown.
Brown meat, stir in refried beans and taco seasoning. Spread meat on top of fry bread. Top with shredded cheese, lettuce and tomatoes. Top with guacamole, sour cream and salsa.
Changing the recipe
I haven’t made Indian Tacos at home yet, but when I do, I’ll probably tinker with the recipe to make it a little healthier.
I’ll fry the dough in a tiny puddle of olive oil or maybe even put it in the oven, on a baking sheet brushed with olive oil. I’ll probably top the bread with black beans or vegetarian, non-fat refried beans. Locally raised beef, which is usually lower in fat, or ground turkey are another possible substitutions.
Instead of packaged taco seasoning, I’ll use salsa.
Or I might just omit the meat and turn them into “Indian Bean Tacos.”
And how about yogurt instead of sour cream? My husband, Mr. Picky, won’t like it, but I would.
Speaking of yogurt, I nearly did a jig in a Safeway grocery store in Rapid City, when I spied the my favorite kind of yogurt: Fage, plain and non-fat.
I also scooped up some Fage in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.
As everyone, including Bobby Flay and Gov. Cuomo, knows, the ultra-creamy, high-protein, Greek-style yogurt is made in Johnstown. And the milk that makes the yogurt? Why that comes from cows, herds of them, that roam the open spaces of our Mohawk Valley.