As an ode to my new country of residence (i.e. Mexico), I give you the first post on The Wild Bohr: homemade corn tortillas. I tell ya, there’s nothing like one of these puppies fresh of the griddle and filled with literally anything. But really though, why don’t we use these glorious flat breads of the Aztecs more often instead of opting for the heavier and less healthy flour tortillas? Well, duh, because flour tortillas are chewy and delicious. But really, I’m going to demystify the pants off of corn tortillas for you right now and hopefully urge you to go make some cuanto antes (that’s ‘asap’, Mom).
What’s in ‘em?
Ah, good thing you asked. Corn tortillas are made of ground up dried corn that has been nixtamalizado, that is, soaked in lime-water to release it’s nutritional value (niacin, essential minerals, and protein). Beyond beefing up it’s health profile, this process also improves the taste and texture of the finished product. To the corn meal, water and salt are added. Et voilá, you have masa, or tortilla dough.
How do I get or make this said “masa”?
In another post, I will show you how to make tortilla dough at home, but for now I want to introduce you to my tortillera (tortilla lady), Liliana Amador Boca Negra. (Some name, eh?) Twice a week I wander into Barrio Santa Teresita to give classes at someone’s home, and then wander over to Liliana’s shop to buy masa. She sells hot, fresh tortillas and premade dough by the kilo. Check out these prices, for 2.2 lbs of dough, I’m only set back 6 pesos, which is roughly $0.40.
What do I need?
First off, we need the dough. Fear not, USA readers, for you can find tortilla dough in many supermarkets. It will be easier for those in bigger cities, but if you start snooping around, you will be sure to find it. If there is a latino market nearby, seek it out because you will need at least one other essential tool in tortilla-crafting. The premixed dough, or masa preparada para torillas, will be found refrigerated and in a plastic container.
Next, a tortilla press is needed. They are normally made of aluminum (like mine) or wood. Arrange two pieces of plastic on the two sides of the press so that the tortilla will peel right off and onto the pan. (I use a cut up plastic bag instead of saran wrap because it’s more resilient.) Most latino super markets will sell these and it’s a fantastic and inexpensive investment.
Third, you will need a flat griddle or comal. I never quite realized how easy it was to heat up tortillas until moving to Mexico and seeing how essential the comal in the Mexican kitchen really is. It’s round, flat, thin, and heats up quickly. Don’t try flipping tortillas by hand with a normal lipped sauté pan, for you very well might burn yourself. Ouch.
I WANT THEM NOW!
Ok, got it. Long post. I’m exhausted too. Turn the heat on under your comal to a medium-low heat. These puppies cook fast, no don’t be hasty with your heat, you’ll only end up with black, splotchy tortillas. As the comal heats up, start making little balls of tortilla dough with your palms. For a regular-sized corn tortilla, the ball will be a bit big
ger than the size of an avocado pit. Some dough is wetter than others, so you might need to flatten the dough balls by hand before pressing them in order to get the consistency you prefer. I like my tortillas thick and chewy, so I’m a little heavy handed with the dough. You like them nice and thin? You go on with your bad self…
Next, place the dough between the plastic on the tortilla press and press. Open, pull the plastic off one side of the dough and invert the other onto your palm. Flip the dough onto the hot comal. Repeat with two more dough balls or until the comal is fully populated.
Now, the flipping. This used to elude me… watching the ladies at the grill flip the tortillas and wondering how the bejesus they weren’t burning themselves. But really, it’s quite easy and fun. Give your torts a few seconds to cook, then to test if they’re ready to flip, take your fingers and gently pull the tortillas towards the edge of the comal. If they move with your hand, then flip them right over. The movement is like fingering dollar bills: gentle and swift. You’ll get the hang of it. Each side takes at most a minute, depending on the heat of your stovetop. And now, badabing-badaboom, tortillas! Hot, chewy, delicious tortillas!
Keep these delectable bites nice and hot in a kitchen towel, fancy napkin, scarf, what-have-you. Remember, that corn tortillas are awful once cooled because the cooked starches become stale. So wrap ‘em up fast, so they stay nice and hot for whatever you’re eating them with.
– Avocado slices, lime, salt
– Sautéed veggies
– Rice and beans
– Nutella and banana
– … ANYTHING