I have always believed that this bread inspired the seventeenth-century Spaniards who settled in Albuquerque, New Mexico to create sopaipillas, or the Navajos learned this from them. The traditional hole in the center of the bread evolved from the Navajo method of frying the pieces of dough on the end of a green pinon twig. To this day, fry bread is considered a very special treat at outdoor festivals, horse shows, and fairs. I can remember waiting in what seemed to be a quarter-mile line just to get a freshly fried disk!
Fry bread is extraordinarily versatile. Native Americans add fresh herbs, like mountain oregano and crushed juniper berries and seeds, to the dough before frying. It can be served as a bread with chile dishes, or used as a basis for Navajo tacos. When freshly fried and drizzled with honey, it becomes a delicious dessert.
Yield: Makes about 12 pieces
4 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
About 1 1/3 cups warm water
Lard or vegetable oil for deep-frying
Cornmeal or flour
Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium-size bowl. Stir in warm water in small amounts until mixture reaches the consistency of bread dough. Knead thoroughly until smooth and elastic. Cover bowl and let dough rest 10 minutes.
Heat 2 to 3 inches of lard or oil in a deep-fat fryer to 400°F (205°C). Pull off pieces of dough and form into 2-inch rounds. Roll out ¼-inch thick and about 8 to 10 inches in diameter on a board lightly dusted with cornmeal or flour. Make a hole in the center of each piece.
Fry breads, one at a time, on each side until golden, piercing large bubbles with a meat fork as they occur. Serve hot.
Freezing Tip: Wrapped tightly, leftover fry bread can be frozen for up to three months. To reheat, wrap bread in foil. Place in a 375°F (190°C) oven 10 to 15 minutes of until hot to the touch. Open foil and heat 5 minutes to crisp slightly.