About 8 years ago I had a rare opportunity which few encounter. I was invited to live in the home of a traditional Navajo medicine man with his wife and family in Window Rock, Arizona. I stayed with them several weeks at their traditional home on ancestral land. The family raised their 8 children in this small, simple home called a hogan, a Navajo style round house which is made out of wood or stone and packed with earth. It very much resembles a yurt. The home is very comfortable with a wood stove in the center, beds surrounding the outer edge of the circle and a small kitchen adjoined at the entrance. The family, though living in a modern world, had decided to live their traditional Navajo way. A decision which had been made by the entire family after living for many years in the suburbs of the nearest city. The children one day asked their parents if they could move back to their family’s ancestral land and live the life few people dream of.
I learned many impactful things from this family while staying there in my short visit. First, I learned about the importance of family and togetherness, which always includes meal times. I learned about the importance of the hearth in the home. The hearth is the fire, in this case, the wood stove. It is the center of the home and must be kept stoked at all times. If it is allowed to go out, the home will become very cold and be very difficult to heat again. The stove must always be stoked, first and foremost.
They put great value in family participation during meal time. After stoking the fire it is the job of the women to prepare breakfast while the men go outside and start work on the land or clean and prepare for the day.
Flour tortillas or flat breads are always prepared fresh and by hand. This is a simple process of mixing flour, salt, and water together and kneading the dough until it forms a ball. The dough is then rolled into smaller balls, heated on a pan and cooked until a light toasty brown. We made enough to stack up in one large bowl and then we wrapped them in a cloth to keep them warm. There is nothing Navajo men like worse than their food cold.
We made eggs, bacon or a traditional corn porridge for breakfast to serve with the flatbreads. If it’s lunch, then it was served with stew made from lamb meat and vegetables. But they always serve flatbreads and they are always warm and fresh. It becomes a meditation to make and is a staple of the family. I got very good at it while I stayed with them.
These flatbreads are heavenly right off the pan. Light and fluffy like big flat pillows, they break apart easily. They can be the size of a small dinner plate up to the size of your face. Some Native Americans call it fry bread or pan bread. But the fact is that everyone loves it.
Being gluten-free and vegetarian myself, I came up with some modifications of the ingredients to suit my health and dietary needs. Which is why I came up with my own version of a gluten free flat-bread.
Here is a simple go to recipe which I make when I am in the mood for a simple breakfast of tea and want something light yet satisfying. Flat breads are a great way to start the morning and easy to make. As I mentioned, it almost becomes a meditation to make these little breads in the morning silence. My husband loves them as well as most kids. Just pull out the PBnJ to make them more kid friendly. Or butter and honey is another favourite topping.
Here goes, traditional fatbreads or pan bread, a la Clarity style.
Traditionally, flour tortillas are made with lard. It turns out that butter is excellent for this recipe. It provides a nice taste and the texture is perfect. If you can’t use dairy butter, I would experiment with using lard, shortening, or coconut oil. Don’t use a liquid oil, though–that will create a different texture for the tortillas. No oil is fine too. Just experiment.
FLOUR TORTILLAS, GLUTEN-FREE
- 2 cups All Purpose Gluten-Free flour mix (I use Bob’s RedMill 1 to 1 Flour) Cassava flour or regular baking wheat flour works as well..
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1 tablespoon pieces **Optional
- 3/4 cup (156 ml) warmish water
- Extra flour for rolling
- In a bowl or food processor, mix the flour, salt, and baking powder.
- Add the butter pieces. This can also be subbed with oil. Mix until the mixture looks like wet sand. If you don’t have a food processor, add the butter pieces via a pastry cutter or by rubbing them into the flour mix with your hands. Add the warm water and turn on processor until a dough ball forms (or mix with a spoon until you can’t mix it anymore and then use your hands to do the final mixing). The dough should be soft and pillowy.
- Pat dough into a large ball and place onto a piece of plastic wrap or wax paper and wrap tightly. Let sit at room temperature for half hour. This rest period will help to distribute the water throughout the dough. If you don’t plan on using the dough that day, you can refrigerate the wrapped dough. But will need to bring it to room temperature before you roll and make the tortillas. Please note that if the dough is too warm, it will be hard to roll and it will be too floppy to move to the pan. But if your impatient like me, put it in the fridge for 10 minutes and then roll out.
- When you are ready to make the tortillas, roll your dough into 9 equal balls of about 1/4 cup. Cover the dough while you heat the pan.
- I like to use a cast iron pan for this. The tortillas need to be cooked in a pan that can be heated to a high temperature. Place pan on medium high heat and let preheat well–for about 5 minutes. Roll out one dough ball at a time on a plastic wrap or wax paper sheet. If you don’t have a rolling pin, use a glass cup. To prevent the dough from sticking to the rolling pin, I like to cover the dough with another sheet of plastic wrap or wax paper while I roll it. Roll until you have a disk that is roughly 7 inches (18 cm) in diameter.
- Transfer gently to the pan. You can use a little cooking oil on the pan to ensure non stick. I like to use coco oil. Cook for about 60 seconds–until the surface of the tortilla is covered with puffed up bubbles.
- Flip and cook on the other side for another 60ish seconds. Check and make sure it’s cooked by checking for light browning on edges or on bubbled areas.
- Flip the tortilla onto a dinner plate hot side up. Repeat the process with each dough ball. Flip each successive tortilla hot side up onto the tortilla stack. By the end of the process, you will have 9 tortillas. Cover warm tortillas with a towel to keep warm and serve.
Tortillas are best fresh–the day they are made. Careful because you are likely to eat all 9 in one sitting.
Clarity West-Ordonez is a plant-based chef and avid health food enthusiast. Having studied food, wellness and nutrition since 2009 when she was diagnosed with celiac disease, an intolerance to gluten (a protein found in wheat) and many other allergies. This led her on a journey to become a raw foodist, eating a 100% plant based diet for many months which detoxified her body and mind.
In 2010, she opened “Eternal Abundance” an all organic, plant based restaurant in Vancouver, Canada. Clarity has travelled around the Philippines, creating healthy and delicious menus based on plant based ingredients for retreat centers and restaurants. She is a passionate about using local ingredients as much as possible as well organic and pesticide free fruits and vegetables. Clarity has innovated healthy, delicious and affordable recipes for Filipinos during her years here in the Philippines. Clarity loves to share information for a healthier lifestyle which she believes is preventative medicine. Clarity is also a trained and certified yoga teacher who works with children and adults. You can find her in Manila teaching yoga, leading retreats, creating healthy meal plans and plant based snacks. Find her on instagram @clair_west1.
“Let Food be thy Medicine” – Socrates