Cooking good food is one of my passions. Unfortunately for my waistline, eating good foods is also a passion. One thing I have realized as I have thought about potential blog posts, is the strong desire I have to cook things from scratch, when it is practical. I think our family is not alone in experiencing that mad dash to the dinner table many nights, but some nights allow for us to experience meals, or parts of meals cooked from scratch. One thing we like to make from time to to time is homemade tortillas. We can look at flour tortillas in a different post.
One thing I that think is important in educating my kids about life is to help them understand where things come from. I think it is important for them to experience foods made from scratch, because they can experience for themselves just where food comes from.
About Corn Tortillas
Traditionally, Nixtamal, a mixture of maize (corn), and lime water is used in the preparation of tortillas. If you have the inclination, you may be able to find the ingredients you need to prepare the corn tortillas from freshly prepared corn at local supermarkets, or Mexician specialty supermarkets such as Vallarta.
An easier alternative is to use masa harina (or instant corn flour.) This is a prepackaged, dry flour mix that can be found in most supermarkets near the regular wheat flour. Simply follow the directions to mix this maize flour with water to make the dough. It is just that easy!
Another alterative might be fresh masa preparada from a local Mexican specialty supermarket or restaurant. This is going to be the freshest bet.
Shape the dough into slightly smaller than golf-ball-sized balls, and place them in a large bowl covered with plastic wrap in order to prevent them from drying out.
Forming the Tortillas
To the left, my then three-year-old daughter is demonstrating just how easy this process is, as in, “it is so easy even a three-year-old can do it.”
My daughter here is using a tortilla press, which is certainly worth the investment, if you plan on making this a regular thing. If this is just a one-time deal, or if you want to spare yourself the trouble or expense, you can also use a rolling pin and roll-out the tortillas between two pieces of wax paper, or plastic wrap. Even if you use the tortilla press, a piece of plastic wrap is important in the process. Remember that this dough will be a bit sticky, so the plastic wrap or wax paper helps keep it from sticking to surfaces.
It should be noted that some people actually prefer corn tortillas that are rolled out instead of pressed. This is because the tortillas turn out thinner when they are rolled than they do when they are pressed. If you do not have a rolling pin, then a clean dowel,or an emptied and washed bottle can work just as well. Yes, you can use the sanitized empty beer bottle, we won’t tell your mom. You’d better make sure you wash behind your ears though.
One trick for a more round tortilla, is to start with the balls of dough well rounded before you press them. The more round they are to start with, the more round they will be in the end after you press them or roll them out.
Don’t worry if your tortilla more resembles a map of Florida than it does the nicely round tortillas you see in the supermarket. Remember those are mass produced, and your tortilla has much more character and personality (and might I add, flavor!) If making round tortillas is important to you, then rest assured, it does get better with practice. In the meantime, empty another beer bottle, relax, and be prepared to eat the evidence.
Cooking the Tortillas
Preheat a griddle or skillet on your stove-top at medium heat. You can cook them on a cast iron griddle if you have one. Alternatively, you can use a cast iron skillet, or a flat skillet.
Make the tortillas, and cook them one at a time. Cook them for about one minute on each side. Remove the tortilla from the heat, and place on a plate wrapped inside a tea towel. Continue cooking until you have prepared all of the tortillas you have made.
A Lesson in Tortilla Humility
As my daughter and I prepared these tortillas, my wife could not help but saunter in and offer up advice from her Mexican heritage. My wife then proceeded to make one of the tortillas, as a part of her lesson for our daughter. Above, you can see the tortillas each of them made. Yes, it is exactly what you think. Our daughter made the round one, and my wife made the one that looks like a distorted map of Texas. The great thing was that after a good laugh, that just made everything even more fun!
Of course the best part of making the tortillas is enjoying the finished product. Hopefully my daughter and I were able to inspire you to try it on your own sometime. If you want to try them all the way from scratch, Alton Brown has a good tutorial.