An Arizonan Culinary Detour

Other Cuisines

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Arizona's cuisine falls within what is known in the US as southwestern cuisine. Its based on the cuisines of Native Americans and Spanish colonists, the cuisine of the Mexican population that has lived and moved into the region before and after the annexation of the state by the US and the American immigrants. It presents bold flavors, with abundant use of spices and chili peppers. Arizonan cuisine is also known as Sonoran, as much of the state falls in the Sonora desert.

While part of this broader culinary tradition, Arizona is proud of its homegrown creations. Sonoran hot dogs marry this American staple with Mexican flavors. Chimichangas, deep fried burritos, were created in the state but have since become popular throughout the country. Arizonan grown prickly pear is featured in everything from candy to margaritas. Still, for my quick sojourn into Arizonan cuisine, I decided to make:

Navajo Tacos
Navajo Tacos

A Navajo taco is basically a tostada with fried bread, instead of a fried tortilla, as a base. It was voted the state dish of Arizona in 1995, and it's really a revelation. The crispy outside of the fried bread stands well against wet ingredients such as tomatoes and salsa, while still providing a satisfying softness.

As delicious as fried bread is, it has its origins in a dark episode of Navajo history. In the 1860's, the US government forced the Navajo to move from Arizona to New Mexico in what is known as the long walk. The Navajo were forced to march by foot, and provided scant provisions of flour, baking powder, salt and lard, which they used to make fry bread. It has since become a symbol of Navajo survival.

I followed a recipe by a Navajo grandma to make the fry bread and used most of the toppings she recommended, though I added ground beef cooked in taco spices from a different recipe. You can use any beans you like, though pinto beans may be most traditional. Some of the recipes call for the beans or for chili to be cooked with the beef. You can do as you please.


Navajo Tacos


    For the fried bread

  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 Tbsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3 cups water
  • cooking oil for frying

    For the ground beef

  • 1 Tbsp cooking oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 packet taco seasoning

    For the tacos

  • canned beans, drained or 1 can chili, re-heated – to taste
  • shredded Cheddar cheese to taste
  • chopped or shredded lettuce, to taste
  • diced tomato, to taste
  • diced onion, to taste
  • sliced avocado, to taste
  • salsa, to taste
  • sour cream, to taste


Make the fried bread

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add water and knead into a dough with your hands or the kneading hook in an electric mixer. Once the dough is elastic but not too sticky, cover the bowl with a cloth towel and allow to rest for 30 minutes. (You can make the beef filling while the dough rests)

Heat about 1" of bowl in a frying pan over high heat. Grab a handful of bread, flatten it with your hands into a large pancake, poke a few holes in the dough to allow for the air to escape. Place the flattened dough in the hot oil and cook until golden, flip and cook until golden on the other side. Drain on paper towels and repeat with the rest of the dough.

To make the beef filling

Heat oil over medium-high heat in a frying pan. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft. Add the ground beef and seasoning and cook until cook through, stirring occasionally.

To make the tacos

Spread beans or chili over each fried bread. Top with prepared beef filling and the rest of the ingredients.

Adapted from Navajo Grandma's recipe on YouTube and other recipes.

Cuisines from other states: American, Alabamian, Arizonan,Californian, Connecticuter, Delawarean, Floridian, Hawaiian, Idahoan, Illinoisan, Kansan, Chihuahuan

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