An almost complete tortilla writeup

There are really two kinds of tortilla: one is Spanish tortilla, and the other is Mexican Tortilla.

Spanish Tortilla

To these Italian eyes, it looks like a frittata. It is made with fried potatoes and fried onions, mixed with egg, and fried in a pan. It is fried on one side until it sets, and then very carefully flipped so that the top side gets nice and golden.
Very common in Spain. Every Spaniard is convinced that his mother makes the one and only tortilla, and that everything else sucks.

Mexican Tortilla

There are two major varieties, made with corn and wheat flour.

The wheat flour tortilla (in Mexico tortilla de harina) is made with wheat flour, fat and salt. It is very thin and flexible. Typical of Northern Mexican cookery, it crossed the border and ended up in burritos.

The corn tortillas are made with hominy ground with water. The result dough traditionally was flattened and cooked on a comal, although nowadays there are machines where the dough goes in from the top, and finished tortilla come out from the front: you normally find them in Mexican tortillerias.
Notice that the corn is usually the most common yellow variety, but blue, red and brown corn can also be used, resulting in colorful tortillas.
People claim that the taste is different.
Tortillas must be eaten hot. You can reheat them on a comal, in a pan without fat, in a microwave oven (keep them wrapped in plastic, or they will dry up), or even on an open flame. Yep, that's right: just plonk one on the gas burner and keep it there for a half minute.

Hot tortillas are usually served wrapped in a cloth, to preserve the heat: notice that a cold tortilla is not very flexible, which prevents the forming of tacos.
Tortillas are eaten at the table, but they also form the base for some recipes, like sopa de tortilla, chilaquiles and torta azteca.

Update: the wily anthropod gives you the right way to make corn tortillas. All hail anthropod! I have made themselves that way many times while living in the tortilla-less parched wastelands of Paris and Pittsburgh.
And in fact, many tortillerias here in Mexico make them in this way, by rehydrating masa harina (as opposed to the molino de nixtamal places, that make their own hominy and grind it and generally have a more difficult life).
If you have forgotten your trusty tortilla press somewhere, a useful trick is to squeeze the dough ball between a pot and a countertop - of course, using the fundamental plastic sheet trick.

Okay, this is good, but I know that someone must be thinking plaintively, "But baffo, unlike you, I don't live in Mexico. Reading your write-up made me hungry, and I want to actually make some tortillas and eat them. But how do I do it?"

Fear not, fair interlocutor! I can take care of at least one aspect of your query.

Only one, though. All I know how to do is make Mexican corn tortillas. Still, that's pretty good for those of us who live far away from sunny southern climes. You can make those tasty little devils at home, oh yes you can.

What you'll need is a type of corn flour that baffo has identified as "hominy". An interesting southern-kind of word. But if you go to a Mexican market and ask for hominy you may be the recipient of a puzzled look. Instead, look for a large bag of masa harina. That's the stuff you want.

And while you're there, look for a tortilla press too. It's a gadget that will make tortilla production much easier. A non-stick frying pan will expedite matters considerably, as well.

To make about 12-15 tortillas, you'll need 2 cups (480 ml) of masa harina and about 1-1/4 cups (300 ml) cold water. Mix them together in a bowl. I use my hands for this, because it's kind of sticky.

What's with the "about" qualifier on the water? The thing is, exactly how much water you need seems to depend on a number of unquantifiable factors, which probably include the air pressure; humidity level; temperature of the masa, the water, and your hands; and perhaps too your astrological sign, mother's maiden name, date of your last HIV test, and who knows what else. So let's give up on speculating on the reasons why and talk about how you know when all is right.

Take a small ball of the dough and see if it holds together. If it's powdery or dry, add a little more water. Not too much. If it seems to hold together okay, try it in the tortilla press.

First of all, cut out two sheets of smooth, fairly heavy plastic - say, from a sandwich bag. You'll need to put the ball of dough between these, because otherwise it will stick to the press. Don't even attempt to make tortillas without the plastic sheets. It'll stick. Trust me on ths one.

Put the ball of dough between the plastic sheets, place it on the tortilla press, and press. Not too hard, now! There, you've made a tortilla. (It's possible, but harder, to do this with a rolling pin. Use plastic bags, too.) Now assess the results of your handiwork. Does it look smooth, not too dry or cracked, lovely and round? I hope so. So, peel off the top sheet of plastic, flip the tortilla onto your hand, and carefully peel the second sheet off. If the dough's sticking to the plastic, it's too wet; throw it back in the bowl and add a little more more masa harina.

Okay, I'm just going to assume you've got the dough right. Now, you've got a tortilla on your hand. Heat a dry non-stick frying pan until moderately hot. No oil. Gently lay the tortilla down on the pan and cook about 30-45 seconds, just till it starts to steam. Flip it and cook about one minute on the second side. Then flip once more. If the planets are aligned and all is well with the universe, your tortilla will puff up like a little pillow. If not, oh well. It will still taste great. Wrap the thing in a tea towel and make another one. And another. And another. Now you have a stack of tortillas, waiting to be filled. Let's see: refried beans, salsa, grated cheese, sour cream, shredded lettuce, jalapenos...Yum.

If you're going to be keeping your masa harina around for more than a few months, store it in the fridge in a sealed bag. Otherwise it'll go rancid.

I can't think what Maylith imagined would happen, but she made tortillas and pressed them and didn't cook them, instead putting them in the fridge overnight. This is a Bad Idea, and Will Not Work. Don't mix up the masa and water if you don't mean to cook the whole batch up. You can store cooked tortillas in the freezer, though, each one separated by plastic or waxed paper and the whole tightly sealed in a freezer bag.

Mesquite Flour Tortillas

Mix together flour meal and salt. Drizzle on oil and stir with a fork. Stir in warm water and make into a ball. Knead for two minutes on a floured board. Cover and let rest for twenty minutes. Divide into twelve balls. Roll each one into 1/8 “ thick circle. Cook in a dry skillet over medium heat. When slightly browned on one side, approximately one minute. Flip over and cook ten to fifteen seconds more. Stack in a plastic bag immediately and let it sit to steam. You can store these at room temperature two to three days. For longer storage keep in the refrigerator.

Make your own mesquite meal

Mesquite pods are ready for harvesting in early spring and again in the fall. The fleshy part is the pod provides a major source of carbohydrates in native diets. It’s prepared primarily as meal and made into gruel , cakes, and beverages. Although mesquite tastes very sweet, it is low in sugar a, compared to its large amount of fiber. It’s this fiber that prevents blood sugar levels from rising.

Gather mesquite pods when straw colored, dry and brittle. Carefully dry and parch by placing a tray of pods in the oven at 225 degrees for twenty minutes, or at 350 degrees for four minutes. To grind use a heavy-duty grinder or hand crank mill. The pods can also be broken with a mortar before grinding. The pods may need to be sifted and reground before a fine meal is obtained.

Mesquite meal lacks gluten, so it’s best to use a ratio of one part mesquite to three-fourths parts wheat flour.

Source: Native Seeds/ SEARCH
526 N. Fourth Avenue
Tucson, Arizona 85705

Or you can order from them on line at:

Native Seeds/ SEARCH

Tor*til"la (?), n. [Sp.]

An unleavened cake, as of maize flour, baked on a heated iron or stone.


© Webster 1913.

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