Homesick Cooking: Spicy Navajo comfort food

['auto'] Hannah Feodorov

Music reverberates around the house, winding around old Navajo pots and Navajo language books that my dad seems to have left by the wayside. The Dutch shoes in the corner are awaiting Sinterklaas. Although my home back in Seattle presents a collage of culture, I’m not generally focused on my connection to both my parents’ separate backgrounds. It’s easy to forget one has two different heritages when both traditions meld so seamlessly together. I find this most deliciously exemplified when there are clanging pots and good smells in kitchen.

Green chili stew and fry bread

Green chili stew and fry bread has always been a special New Year's treat in our house, but sometimes when you’re away from home you just want some deep fried dough and broth that’s hot enough to cure any cold. Although Vancouver is sadly lacking in southwest Native American cuisine, it is possible to make this dish at home.

Navajo history

The Navajo nation is in the southwestern region of the USA in the deserts of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. The placement of the Navajo reservation is key to the creation of fry bread: it is the side dish for our stew. Fry bread was invented as a way to make the most of rations, after the US government forced the Navajo (Diné) people to relocate during the 300 mile “Long Walk.”

The secret ingredient

Most of the ingredients for my dad’s version of green chili stew and fry bread can be found at any Safeway or Save on Foods, with the exception of Hominy. Hominy (pazole) is a kind of puffy white corn thing that you get in a can, it’s also a huge part of this recipe and I must stress that you cannot leave it out. It can be found at Fresh is Best on Broadway.

['auto'] Sarah Robertson

With just a few simple adjustments to make this stew sort of student friendly, it’s time to get cooking!

['auto'] Bridget Chase
['auto'] Bridget Chase

Tips and tricks

A few tips to consider when putting together this recipe: fry bread is usually best served with honey, but it can also be eaten plain! And while ideally one would use lard or Crisco for deep frying purposes, I like to use canola oil as its lighter on the taste buds and easier to use.

Remember, imperfections are normal, and just as delicious — I make them all the time. In terms of the stew itself, you can use canned or fresh chilis, but I like to cheat and use the cans, as roasting real chilies is hard and takes way too long. Finally, be warned: the stew gets hotter the longer you leave it in the fridge.

['auto'] Elizabeth Wang

A taste of identity

This recipe serves as a reminder of the identity that both my dad and I share as part of the Diné people, not to mention that this food brings my whole family together, as my mom spends a lot of time hanging around the kitchen and taste testing during stew season.

Even though many students are away from home and perhaps a bit too reliant on take out, I hope this stew is a delicious opportunity to partake in some spicy Navajo comfort just as the rain comes drizzling back onto campus.

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