Dark Days: Local Corn Tortillas

I think next month’s Dark Days goal is going to be post two meals at least a week apart. Or maybe at least a post apart. Never let it be said that I cannot procrastinate with the best of ‘em.

Apparently, Arizona is still on my mind because I’ve been craving corn tortillas. I’ve wanted to try homemade corn tortillas for some time now, but there have always been a few problems with that plan: firstly, masa harina, the traditional corn flour used in making corn tortillas, chips and tamales, is certainly not local (most of it comes from Mexico); secondly, I can’t find it near me (I’m sure I could find some in Port Chester or White Plains, where there are sizable Mexican-American populations, but up in my ‘hood, no such luck); thirdly, corn tortillas are traditionally made using a tortilla press, one of which I do not have. I do, however, possess local corn meal, an unabridged dictionary that’s been gathering dust for, oh, about 20 years, and a stubborn streak a mile wide.

I found a simple and easy-to-follow recipe at Simply Recipes (of course). Since corn meal is a much coarser grind than corn flour, it was difficult to get the dough to form a cohesive ball; I ended up adding a bit of local whole wheat pastry flour as a binding agent. I mixed and mixed, and mixed some more: it took a bit of adjusting to get the dough to the right consistency (which is not supple and elastic, like a bread dough, but more dense, like Play-Doh) but once I did it was a fairly simple process.  Form a golf-ball-sized ball of dough, center between two sheets of waxed paper, squish flat underneath Webster (published in 1979; man, I’m old), loosen waxed paper and roll out as thin as possible, cook in hot skillet. Repeat. I also tried my Mario Batali Dutch oven as an improvised tortilla press, which worked fine, with the exception of the “M” in the middle of each tortilla (but, hey, at least it got some use).

The tortillas came out quite well; not a traditional flavor, but quite corny and with a nice texture, not as crisp as a tortilla chip but not as soft as a flour tortilla. For dinner I made tostadas topped with sharp cheddar and homemade roasted salsa verde. Very satisfying: I call the experiment a success.

Adapted from How to Make Corn Tortillas by Elise & Arturo Vargas at Simply Recipes

———————————————————–

Local Corn Tortillas

INGREDIENTS

METHODS

  1. Combine the corn meal with 1/2 cup water. Mix well until the meal is well hydrated; allow to sit for 5 minutes.
  2. Begin mixing and kneading (a flexible silicone spatula works well for this) in the bowl, folding and flattening against the sides of the bowl, for several minutes until the dough begins to hold a cohesive shape.  If dough seems too dry and crumbly, add water, 1 tbsp at a time, until it seems well hydrated. If dough will not come together, add pastry flour, 1 tbsp at a time, and continue to mix/knead in the bowl.
  3. Transfer dough to a clean work surface and continue to knead, with either wet or corn-meal-dusted hands, until the dough will hold its shape (test by forming a small ball, then pressing gently to flatten to a disk; if there is a lot of cracking at the edges, the dough is not yet ready). Make adjustments by adding more corn meal, flour or water as necessary.
  4. Form the dough into balls, a bit bigger than a golf ball; you should get about 8 dough balls. (It’s a good idea to form 1 ball, flatten it and cook it before continuing, to make sure you have the size/thickness you want.)
  5. Flatten dough between two sheets of waxed paper (or plastic wrap or foil; two well-floured smooth linen tea towels might work). I used my unabridged dictionary to flatten the dough balls, then switched to my heaviest Dutch oven. Lift one side of waxed paper to loosen from the dough, then, keeping both sheets of wax paper surrounding the tortilla, flip to the other side and loosen the other piece of wax paper. Finish flattening by rolling tortilla out with a rolling pin. (Obviously you could use a tortilla press.) The thinner and more uniform you get them, the more evenly and quickly they will cook.
  6. Heat a dry skillet over high heat.  Perform the lift-loosen-flip-loosen manouever on the tortilla again,to release it from the wax paper; when the skillet is hot, remove the top piece of wax paper, then use the bottom piece to carefully flip the tortilla onto your hand. Flip it once again onto the hot skillet. Cook for 30 – 45 seconds per side; tortilla should puff just slightly, get a few brown edges, and some air bubbles. Remove to a tortilla warmer or a warm plate covered with a clean towel. Repeat with remaining dough.

Yields about 8, 6-inch tortillas.

OPTIONS

  1. Masa harina, corn flour that has been nixtamalized with lime water to improve nutritional value and flavor, is traditionally used to make corn tortillas. There is no local source of masa harina of which I am aware. Wild Hive does sometimes carry corn flour (although I assume it has not been nixtamalized); all I had in the house was corn meal.
  2. I did try processing the corn meal in the food processor for several minutes in order to produce something closer to flour; it didn’t make much difference. Could be my processor though, which is >20 years old; the blades really need sharpening! The pastry flour does give the tortillas a bit of a wheaty taste; they were still quite good, but corn flour would work better, IMO.
  3.  Elise suggests adding an optional 1/8 tsp of baking soda to improve lift.

STORE

Best eaten fresh, but will store at room temperature, in an airtight container, for 2 to 3 days.  Slightly stale tortillas can be fried in oil to make homemade tortilla chips.

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6 comments

  1. Casey

    I have that dictionary! One of the things I remember about growing up was looking at the 2 sections of pictures. Fish, planets, rocks, insects, who knows what else.

    The tortillas look great!

    • Dictionaries are so wonderful; I hope people still buy them for their kids. There is just something amazing about paging through them and marveling at the sheer volume of words you don’t know. The internet is handy and all – but I still love a good dictionary.

  2. Pingback: {weekend reading} NATIONAL edition « FROM SCRATCH club

  3. chilebeanz

    Yes – what IS that on top of your tostada? Robb Walsh’s authentic Tex-Mex chili gravy, some onions and blanco queso would be perfect.

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