I was super excited to discover last fall that none other than Mario Batali decided to cull his culinary traveling experience into a single cookbook; one that reflects the diverse and varied food traditions of these United States. It was released during that wonderful October/November season where some of the most anticipated new cooking and food-related books of the year come upon us. For me, this is like playoff season, and I shout it from the rooftops; usually as my husband rolls his eyes and braces himself for my amazon cart to fill up (he’s actually had to drill my cookbook-case together again because it was literally bursting apart from the sides. I now know to start stacking vertically when I run out of room. The answer, obviously, isn’t to stop buying cookbooks). I scooped it right up, took it home, grabbed my pack of post-its for flagging The Recipes I Must Cook From This Book (It’s a sacred ceremony with a new cookbook, please don’t judge me) and started reading.
One of the first recipes I knew I had to make was an homage to one of my favorite food truck/state fair items: Navajo Fry Bread Tacos. I’ve always loved the texture of fry bread — crunchy exterior revealing a tender, almost chewy interior; the perfect taco vehicle in my opinion — thicker and therefore more structurally sound than fried corn taco shells or flour tortillas that split apart under the slightest pressure from fillings.
I was also intrigued by the meaty filling he was suggesting — a nice helping of Texas Red, a traditional Texas-style bean-less chili, which sounded like the perfect fit for the tacos and all their inevitable salsa-and-sour-cream-fixin’s. I also loved the attention to the layering of flavor in the bowl of red, we’re going to be toasting our own dried chiles here — and I’m pretty excited about it, I don’t mind telling you. I’d encourage you to make the whole batch, even though it’s considerably more than needed for the tostadas. This stuff is extremely freezer-friendly and you’ll be one mess of cornbread away from a ready-to-go-dinner next time you need one.
Batali is serving his fry bread tacos open-faced, but I thought there was room to expand this idea. What if they were kept open-faced but layered into tostadas? Or fried around a good old-fashioned rolling pin or aluminum foil mold for that recognizable taco shell shape? What could possibly go wrong? Turns out, not much. I prefer attacking these things as a tostada with a knife and fork, but frying the dough into taco shells works nicely also — the choice is yours.
Navajo Fry Bread Tostadas
Adapted slightly from Mario Batali, Big American Cookbook
For the Texas Bowl of Red:
7 dried ancho chilis
3 chipotles in adobo
1 cup water
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 lbs ground beef (I used an 80/20 blend)
1 large yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 bottle of lager (I used Pacifico)
1 cup of low-sodium chicken stock, or homemade
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon cumin
½ teaspoon cinnamon
Salt and pepper, to taste
Reconstitute the dried anchos in at least 2 cups of boiling water for 30 min. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the hot water. Transfer the anchos, chipotles and the reserved water to a blender and blend until very smooth. Set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium high heat. Add half of the ground beef to the pot and brown, then transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Add the other half of the beef and repeat. Once all the meat is browned, add the onions to the pan and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant. Return the beef to the pot and add the chicken stock, beer, honey, cumin, pepper mixture and cinnamon. Stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 2 hours. If the mixture looks like it’s getting too thick, you may put a lid on the pot or add a little more water or stock. Keep warm until you are ready to assemble the tostadas.
This recipe will make more chili than you need to fill the tostadas. Put the remaining mixture in a container and freeze it.
For the frybread:
2 cups all purpose flour, plus more as needed
1/12 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¾ cup warm water
Vegetable, canola or peanut oil, for frying
In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Add the warm water and knead until the dough is soft and elastic, but not sticky. Add more flour if necessary. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Roll the dough pieces out until you have about a 6 inch round. Poke a hole in the middle of each round to help keep too many air pockets from forming in the frying process.
Heat ½ inch of oil in a large, high sided skillet until it reaches 350°F. Use a thermometer if necessary. Fry the rounds one at a time until puffed and golden brown on each side. Don’t forget to sprinkle each one with a little bit of salt right when they come out of the oil so that the seasoning will stick. Let drain on paper towels until you are ready to assemble the tostadas. If you prefer to make taco shells, form the dough around either the end of a wooden rolling pin or form a tube of aluminum foil that’s approximately the same width as a rolling pin (if you’re using foil, try to keep it as smooth as possible). Using tongs to secure the edges of the dough around the tube, gently lower it into the oil and fry until golden and it holds its shape.
For the final assembly:
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 small red onion, chopped
Sour cream, for serving
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 cups finely shredded iceberg lettuce
Place 4 fry breads on 4 individual plates. Top each fry bread with ½ cup of beef mixture. Place another round of fry bread on top and add to each another ½ cup of the beef mixture. Top with shredded lettuce, cheese, red onion and sour cream as desired.