How to Decipher Your Grandma’s Navajo Taco Recipe

My whole life I have been fed Navajo tacos. Whenever there were big events or guests, my mom had a few go-to recipes to feed a crowd, and one of those options was Navajo tacos! My husband thought it was a weird joke when I told him that my mom used to make us sort the pinto beans and acted like it was a fun game or competition. But that was my real childhood! When my family was done with the beans and toppings, we’d move in on the leftover fry bread for dessert. Some good ol’ multipurpose fry bread and honey!

The first time I tried to make it myself was years ago in Russia! My dear Navajo companion was crashing at my apartment that weekend, so we decided on a little taste of home for dinner. It was a disaster. I don’t remember what went wrong, but I know that we were embarrassed at the outcome. So every time I’ve thought about making them since then, I just think that if the two of us couldn’t do it together, then there’s no way I’ll manage on my own and toss the plan.

That is, until this last weekend.

I did it! And it was so easy! My mom have me the recipe and said, “Just follow this exactly. It’s tried and proven!” I was like, sweet! This looks super easy! Any recipe card as dirty as the one she sent has to be good.

Buuuut it was also written 20 years ago by a small town woman, who is a much more confident cook than myself, and I had so many questions about the cooking instructions.

So let me help fill in the gaps with things I was told by my mom and sister who patiently answered my phone calls all day as I prepared for this meal.


  • 4 (15oz) cans cooked pinto beans OR 4 cups dried pinto beans
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 small onion
  • garlic salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 2 packages of yeast
  • 1 Tbsp margarine (melted)
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp sat
  • 6-7 cups of flour

Meat and Bean Instructions

1. If you are using dried pinto beans, they’ll need to sit in the slow cooker for about 8 hours so start early! You’ll want to check your dried beans and make sure to sort out any small rocks that may have found their way into the bag. Then put the beans in the slow cooker and cover with water for 8 hours. Brown the meat and add it and onions in with about 2 or 3 hours to go. If you are using canned beans, do NOT drain them. Just pour the entire can in.

2. Brown the meat and sautee the onions before throwing them in.

3. Add garlic salt and pepper to taste. (My sister suggests lots of salt and pepper.)

4. Cook all ingredients together for 2-3 hours.

Fry Bread Instructions

  1. Put 2 cups of warm water in a bowl and add the yeast, slowly mixing it until it dissolves.
  2. Mix in the other ingredients, withholding the flour til last.
  3. Add in the flour immediately after the other ingredients. (If you’re like me and realize you have to run to the neighbors to borrow some flour, the yeast will start to rise even without the flour)
  4. Knead it together by hand or in your kitchen aid until it’s nice and stretchy.
  5. Let sit for 15 minutes.
  6. Roll into balls and then stretch them into 6-8 inch circles.
  7. Warm up about 1/3 cup of vegetable oil on the stove to medium-high heat, and fry the dough on each side for about 20-30 seconds.

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