Carolyn here today to expound on the glories and benefits of homemade corn tortillas. With inexpensive corn tortillas wrapped in plastic available everywhere, why bother to make your own? Same reason to make your own bread: flavor and nutrition. The fragrance and flavor of a tortilla right off the grill is is warm and homey and the perfect base for a simple meal.
Homemade tortillas over a fire at Linda’s ranch in Mexico. (photo by Linda McKittrick.)
Corn tortillas are made with masa harina, or corn that has gone through the nixtamal process with lime and is then dried and ground (or maybe ground and dried). If you want to start from scratch with the corn, Savor blog sister Amy can lead you through it in a previous post here.
Back in April, public radio had an interesting piece on a Mexican cook who maintains that tortillas made from heritage corn are vastly superior to those made from commercial bagged masa. You can read the very interesting article here.
The problem is that corn alone, whatever corn you use, isn’t all that nutritious, lacking protein and some other nutrients. As with all foods, combining ingredients can lead to more balanced nutrition.
Grated turmeric root adds nutrition and a lovely golden color to the tortillas.
I added both garbanzo flour and amaranth flour as well as some grated turmeric to the masa for some tortillas I made recently and the results were delicious. (See recipe below). Amaranth is high in protein and the amino acid lysine. You could also use quinoa flour for more nutrition.
Once you have the dough, you need to shape it. In Tucson, traditional Mexican cooks pat out tortillas in perfect rounds. It’s an art. Further south, cooks use a tortilla press, either handsome wooden ones or the more utilitarian metal.
Hermina Serino uses a wooden tortilla press in her booth at the San Phillips Farmers Market in Tucson.
Plain metal tortilla press.
The trick to getting the dough off the press in one piece is to use pieces of plastic below and on top of the ball of dough. The other trick, which I learned in a cooking class in Oaxaca, it to peel the tortilla up from the hinge end, not the lever end. The hinge end is just enough thicker to help you peel it without tearing. Once you have it in your hand, drop it directly onto a hot griddle or frying pan. Let it cook for a few seconds, then flip and do the other side.
Peel the tortilla up from the hinge end of the press.
For even more nutrition, you can add a sprinkling of seeds (I tried both chia and barrel cactus) to the dough before pressing the tortillas.
Sprinkle some chia seeds on the tortilla dough before pressing.
Tortillas cook quickly on a well-seasoned griddle. You can see the gratings of turmeric in this picture
As you finish the tortillas, store them in a folded tea towel until ready to serve. They are fine as they are, or if you wish to cook further, you can saute in a little bit of oil. Top with fillings of your choice: meat or vegetables and beans.
A simple meal includes one tortilla with chicken and green salsa and another with grilled beef with red salsa.
More Nutritious Tortillas
3/4 cup dried instant masa
1 tablespoon garbanzo flour*
1 tablespoon amaranth flour*
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon grated fresh turmeric or dried turmeric (optional)
1/2 cup water (approximately)
First cut a plastic bag into two large squares to use on the tortilla press. Mix the flours and the salt in a medium bowl. Add half the water and mix. Add more water slowly until you get a dough that just sticks together. You don’t want it too soft. This takes a little practice. If you add too much water, just sprinkle in a little more masa. Roll the dough into balls of about 2 tablespoons each. Heat the well-seasoned frying pan or griddle. Press a tortilla and transfer to grill. Don’t worry if every one doesn’t turn out great. Just rebundle the dough and try again. Makes 6 to 8 tortillas.
(*Purchase these flours in health food stores or make your own by grinding the dry garbanzos, amarath or quinoa until fine in a coffee or spice grinder.)
Carolyn Niethammer writes about edible wild plants and Southwestern food. Read more at www.cniethammer.com. Buy her books at the Native Seeds/SEARCH retail store or website or on Amazon.