Tigerlily Works Wonders With Dough

Native-American fry bread goes global and gets fusionized at Berkeley’s Tigerlily.


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The Indian fry bread at Tigerlily changes with the seasons.

Photo by Lori Eanes

From bagels to naan, nearly every culture on Earth has its leavened-dough staple. Many Native-American tribes up the ante by deep-frying theirs.

Roughly the size and shape of a catcher’s mitt, ubiquitous at powwows and hailed as South Dakota’s official “state bread,” fry bread lends itself agreeably to being strewn with toppings, pizza-wise, or folded around fillings to make huge, floppy Navajo tacos. Versatile and nearly irresistible, it’s also controversial: Nineteenth-century Navajos invented fry bread to utilize government-issued sugar, salt, lard, and white flour, whose distance from traditional tribal diets is now widely decried as a colonialist crime and whose staggering fat-and-calorie count is now being widely blamed for high diabetes and obesity rates among Native Americans.

Luckily, the fry bread served at Tigerlily in Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto occupies a higher plane. Handcrafted with artisanal flour and organic seasonal toppings, it’s fried in rice-bran oil to create a gloriously soft, sprawling, shareable vegetarian cushion.

Its deliciousness starts right in the dough, which always includes an international array of such spices as fennel seed, black sesame seed, and turmeric.

“We char them in the broiler, then smash them with a mortar and pestle, then it all goes into the Vitamix and gets worked in,” explained Cyrus Cross, one of Tigerlily’s chefs. Depending on the time of year, toppings might include artichokes, sunchokes, onions, avocado, balsamic vinegar, chili oil, and/or anything else from around the world that might fusionize a savory fritter.

Parsnips, for example, “add a nice sweet bite,” said Cross, who has also cooked at Gather. And Parmesan cheese is a popular standby. “We use Grana Padano,” Cross noted. “It’s aged longer than most Parmesan cheeses, so it adds a mild, nutty richness, which lays a sublime flavor over the whole dish.”

Tigerlily, 1513A Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 510-540-7900, www.TigerlilyBerkeley.com.

Published on Aug. 5, 2016 at 12:02 a.m.

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