A few weeks ago we visited one of the newest Smithsonian museums (construction is currently underway for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and set to open in 2016) in Washington D.C.- the National Museum of the American Indian. It opened in 2004 with 250,000 sq ft of exhibition space. In addition to the collections of Native American objects, the museum also offers films, dance performances, interactive workshops, and readings.
Admission to the museum is free and it is open everyday except Christmas. Hours are 10 am to 5:30 pm. To get to the museum, we took the metro to L’Enfant Plaza, then walked up Maryland Avenue to Independence Avenue. The museum is on the far right side of the National Mall, close to the U.S. Capitol Building, and this station was a bit closer than the Smithsonian station. Nearby parking is often limited.
The Mitsitam Cafe is definitely the most unique of the available food options among the Smithsonian Museums. There is a rotating menu based on the season and cafeteria stations are separated based on region. I was not aware at the time that Chad and I both went to the same region- the Great Plains. I ordered the Indian Taco (Buffalo Chili on Fry Bread with Pickled Chiles and Pinto Beans, Lettuce, Tomato, and Shredded Cheese) and Fry Bread with Cinnamon and Honey. Chad ordered the Chipotle Chicken Taco (Grilled Chipotle Chicken, Fry Bread, Lettuce, Tomato, and Shredded Cheese) and Buffalo Chili and Cheese Fries. Everything was delicious, but on the expensive side. Other regions included Northern Woodlands, South America, Northwest Coast, and Mesoamerica.
We spent most of our time in the ImagiNATIONS Activity Center on the third floor. This is a family friendly, hands-on area for children to explore. Evan especially enjoyed weaving a giant basket, playing with the snowshoe exhibit, and exploring the Amazonian Stilt House. His favorite part was stamping his passport (provided at the beginning of the exhibit) in each section. There is also a craft room and reading area. Check out the calendar for special events.
Since Chad and I both gravitated to versions of the Fry Bread Taco at the Mitsitam Cafe, I decided to make it at home. The Navajo developed fry bread following their forced 300 mile relocation known as the “Long Walk” from Arizona to New Mexico. The land was barren and they could no longer grow their traditional vegetables and beans. The government introduced items such as flour, sugar, lard, baking powder, powdered milk, and canned goods through, often old, rations. Fry Bread was created from these ingredients.
Here is an article from the Smithsonian on the history of Fry Bread.
Traditional Navajo fry bread uses powdered milk. The recipe I used has fresh milk.
I topped the fry bread with seasoned ground beef, cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes. The Sonoran Beef topping from The Hungry Hounds also sounds delicious.
Be sure to save a fry bread or two for dessert. Mix powdered sugar with cinnamon, sprinkle over the fry bread, and drizzle with honey.
Fry Bread Tacos
Fry Bread adapted from The Pioneer Woman, toppings adapted from The Athlete’s Palate Cookbook: Renowned Chefs, Delicious Dishes, and the Art of Fueling Up While Eating Well
3 cups all purpose flour
3 rounded teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk
1/4-1/2 cup water
Vegetable shortening or lard for frying
2 2/3 tablespoons taco seasonings
1 cup water
1 teaspoon canola oil
1 pound ground beef
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded romaine
2 finely chopped tomatoes
In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center and pour in milk. Mix in the flour to combine. Add just enough water to bring dough together. Do not overmix. Cover bowl with towel or plastic and allow to rest 45 minutes to 1 hour.
In a large skillet, add 1-2 inches vegetable shortening or lard over medium/medium-high heat.
Divide rested dough into plum size pieces. Press one piece into a circle. Start from the center and gently spread the dough outward to make a large, thin circle (4-7 inches wide). Repeat with remaining dough.
Once the skillet and fat are thoroughly heated, gently add one of the prepared doughs. Fry until golden, about 1 minute. Use tongs to gently flip to other side. Fry until golden, about 30 seconds. Remove to a towel lined wire rack. Repeat with remaining dough.
In a small bowl, whisk together taco seasonings and water until no lumps remain.
In a large skillet, drizzle oil over medium high heat. Crumble in the beef and cook, breaking apart the pieces, until no pink remains. Pour in the taco seasonings mixed with the water. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until all the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat.
Top the fry bread with beef, cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes. Serve immediately.