Nothing Like a Fresh Tortilla
by Amy Hunt
Mexican cooking starts now, as in the Aztec days, with tortillas, the “bread of Mexico” and only those who have tasted them hot off the griddle know how good tortillas can be.
Mexicans use them as plates, forks, and spoons. They dip their tortillas into stews and use torn-off pieces to scoop up sauces. They can be eaten plain or with butter, beans or meat, chili or sauces…almost any kind of food that is not too liquid can be placed on a tortilla…the “bread of Mexico”!
A true Mexican tortilla is made from specially prepared mashed corn kernels, or masa. Flour tortillas, which have dominated Mexican food in America, are not a part of traditional Mexican food. Except in Northern Mexico, corn tortillas remain the norm and the staple.
To make corn tortillas, masa can be purchased at most grocery stores in the ethnic food section.Quaker and Maseca brands are both excellent. If you are fortunate to have a specialty Mexican market nearby, you can purchase the masa dough freshly made and ready to press or roll out.
4 cups masa
½ tsp. salt
21/2 cups hot but not boiling water
Place the masa and salt in a large bowl. Add the water and mix with your hands to make a dough that comes together in a soft ball. Continue mixing and kneading until the dough is elastic enough to hold together without cracking, about 3 minutes. If using right away, divide the dough into 18 equal portions and cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel. If making ahead for later use, wrap the whole ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 1 day and then divide.
To form the tortillas, place a portion of dough between 2 pieces of plastic wrap. Press with a tortilla press or roll out with a rolling pin into a circle 6 or 7 inches in diameter. Use your fingers to smooth any raggedy edges. Continue with the remaining portions until the dough is used up.
To cook the tortillas, heat a heavy skillet, griddle or comal over high heat until it begins to smoke. Peel the plastic wrap off a tortilla and place the tortilla in the pan. Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook for 30 seconds. Turn and cook on the other side for 1 minute. Turn again, and cook until the corn tortilla puffs a bit but is still pliable, not crisp, about 30 seconds more. Remove and continue until all the corn tortillas are cooked. Serve right away as this is when they are the best.
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