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Warm Corn Tortillas

Before my time on this spinning orb, my mother lived with my older brother and sister in the border town of El Paso, Texas. From her time in El Paso, she grew fond of Mexico, the people, traditions, language, and food.  

When I came around, the family lived in a small town on the California coast. There, these cultural influences continued with opportunities to practice her Spanish and enjoy and share the Mexican food she loved.

Tortillas are foundational to so many recipes that it seems natural to start here. Making them is straightforward, masa harina, salt, lard, and water. In Spanish, masa means dough, and harina means flour. You can find masa harina in most grocery stores today in the baking aisle with other flours.  

A bit of background, masa harina is made from dried corn that has been treated with an alkali, such as ash. The process is called nixtamalization, and it softens the texture, improves the nutritional value, and changes flavor and aroma. The dried, nixtamalized corn is then ground to make the masa harina. You’re welcome; you now have something to add to your cocktail conversation repertoire.

Although Mom is no longer with us, I would have loved to have made and shared these with her. I think she would approve.  

Jeff and I enjoy these heated with some melted cheese and Chardonnay.

Photo Illustrations of Steps 3 & 4

 

Ingredients

Equipment

Large bowl
Ziplock bag, cut open along each side, leaving the base intact
Tortilla press or large, heavy cast iron skillet
Larger cast iron skillet

Ingredients

2 cups masa harina
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lard (optional, but I love lard)
1 ½ to 2 cups warm water, about 38ºC or 100ºF
Flour for dusting to knead

How To Make

1
In a large bowl, add the masa harina, salt, and lard. If using lard, work with your fingers into the masa harina using a snapping motion between your thumb and four other fingers until combined to a sandy consistency. Add one cup of the warm water and mix with a spoon. Begin adding the remaining water little by little, using your hands to mix, until you have a clean mass that has pulled away from the bowl.
2
Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead with your hands until smooth, about one to two minutes. It should not be sticky; it should be the consistency of Play-Dough, with a little elasticity. If sticky, sprinkle a bit more dry masa harina and knead into the mass. If it is too dry, sprinkle a bit of warm water and incorporate.
3
Form a ball and cover with a very damp, warm kitchen towel. Masa harina will dry out quickly, so this is important. Let rest at room temperature for one hour.
4
Depending on the amount of water, you should have about 525 to 600 grams of masa harina. You will form small balls of dough, the size of a golf ball, about 50 grams each. Form one ball at a time as you cook. As you form one at a time, they will be pressed and put on the skillet, one at a time. Open the prepared Ziplock with one side down on the inside bottom of the tortilla press, or a hard surface countertop. Place one ball on top. Close the Ziplock over the ball. Press with the tortilla press or with a heavy skillet. You should have a 6 to 8-inch tortilla. The Ziplock will carefully peel away. If the tortilla sticks, the masa is too sticky and needs a bit more dry masa harina kneaded in.
5
Place skillet over medium-high heat for about four minutes to get it nice and hot. Cook tortillas, one at a time, on this dry skillet, for about a minute, until brown spots appear on the bottom, flip and cook another 30 seconds on the other side. Wrap cooked tortillas in a dry kitchen towel to keep them warm as you cook the remaining tortillas. Serve warm.