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Indian Summer: A Feast of Fry Bread

Sep. 5, 2012
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A simple flat bread quickly fried until puffy and tender, fry bread is as versatile as it is easy to make. The American-Indian staple is the foundation for both entrées and desserts, and at Milwaukee's Indian Summer Festival, it's served in many of its countless variations. Vendors use it as a bun for hamburgers, cheeseburgers and brats, or cut it open and fill it with stuffing. Others sweeten it with cinnamon and honey, or load it with fruit or pie-toppings. By far the most popular fry bread snack at Indian Summer, though, is Indian tacos, according to festival director Judy Dordel.

“They're made with lettuce, tomatoes, onions and meat, just like a Mexican taco, except with fry bread instead of tortilla,” Dordel says. “They're probably the one single item that everybody at Indian Summer has to try, so there's a lot of competition between vendors to see who can make the biggest or most unique one. It's really a challenge for all the visitors to try all the different varieties.” An example of that variety: One vendor is serving a blackened catfish Indian taco with a side of jalapeno slaw.

Among the other traditional foods offered by the festival's American-Indian vendors are bison, walleye, wild rice (served in a number of soups, stews and casseroles) and hominy soup. “Corn soup, or hominy soup, depending on whether the chefs use white hominy or yellow corn, is a staple of the Native-American tradition,” Dordel explains. “Most chefs are very creative about it, and they all have their own signature recipes using their preferred spices and vegetables.”

Since American Indians suffer from diabetes at higher rates than the general American population, many of Indian Summer's vendors also offer healthier options, including salads with berries and nuts. The diabetes epidemic will also be addressed at a Saturday cooking demonstration sponsored by the healthy living outreach group Work Out, Low Fat for Elders (WOLFE).

Other food-related programming will include cooking demonstrations by Dream Dance Steak chef Matt Baier and former UW-Milwaukee chef Victor Zamora, and a Sunday cooking challenge that will pit Zamora against chef Michael Nagovan of the Fire Pit Sports Bar. Each chef will have 30-40 minutes to create a dish from the same ingredients, using American-Indian staples like buffalo, turkey, squash, yams and peppers.

Indian Summer Festival runs Sept. 7-9 at the Summerfest grounds.


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