Mexican culture, from pre-Hispanic times came to be through its inhabitant relationship to corn, or maíz. This beautiful crop helped entire civilizations to survive by providing them with a nutrient-rich diet and to the construction of their identity. Maíz and Mexico, without a doubt, are tied together as one, feeding thousands of generations to this date and resulting in the creation of thousands of delicious dishes. That is why we consider Maíz to be the greatest gift our ancestors left us with and this week we wanted to pay homage to that by sharing the basic principles and a recipe on how to cook tortillas de maíz, or corn tortillas.
Maíz, maize, or corn is the most consumed grain around the world, surpassing even wheat and rice. It is also part of an entire identity for Mexican and other Latino cultures, feeding entire generations. The domestication of teocintle, a wild-growing grain, was the result of corn in Mexico, which was later transmitted to other pre-columbian cultures around the American continent. Moreover, introducing corn to a diet can be a high source of nutrients, which has caused many communities to survive thanks to this delicious food.
Today’s recipe is adapted from our go-to recipe book, Decolonize your Diet: Plant-based Mexican American Recipes for Heath and Healing (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2015) by Luz Calvo and Catriona Rueda Esquibel, and from the experience we have from cooking with our family.
Learning to make tortillas is essential in learning about Mexican culture as it is considered the base for many Mexican plates such as quesadillas, chilaquiles, tacos, flautas, tostadas, enchiladas, and enfrijoladas to name but a few. Tortillas are also always present on a Mexican table as a companion to every meal, the same as bread in other cultures. Lastly, handmade tortillas have no comparison to store-bought ones and are an amazing upgrade to every dish. Although this is not an “easy” recipe, as making the dough (masa) is somewhat complicated, we highly encourage you to take the time to make them, at least once in your life, to be able to reflect on the knowledge that our ancestors have left us with and experience the important connection of cooking from scratch.
Tortillas de Maíz
Ingredient and special utensil list:
For Nixtamal* to make the dough, or masa:
*Nixtamal can be store-bought as “masa harina”, “nixtamalized corn flour” or labeled as “instant corn masa” and can be found in several brands and in any specialized Latino store. We recommend checking out Pinole Blue a Mexican-owned store that sells masa harina, tortillas in many shapes, colors, and flavors, and many other essentials to a Mexican kitchen.
6 cups of water
2 tbs of slaked lime (cal)
2 cups dried field corn rinsed well
For Tortillas (makes about 10):
1 ¾ cups of ground nixtamal, or store-bought masa harina
1 cup of warm water
Tortilla press, found in several brands and in any specialized Latino store.
Several plastic produce bags cut in half (these will be used 2 per tortilla in the tortilla press)
Tortillero, or basket with lid.
Making Nixtamal. In a large pot filled with water whisk water with slaked lime to create a slurry-like mix and add corn. This mix will be then cooked on medium heat for 45 min., stirring occasionally and checking often. The goal is to water to barely come to a slow boil after these 45 minutes have passed, so check your times and heat accordingly and reduce heat if it starts to boil before that, or increase it if it is not looking like it is going to boil after 30-35 minutes. Remove from heat and cover the pot. Allow mix of corn to soak in pot for a full day, 24 hours.
Strain and rinse corn thoroughly under cool water as you would do with rice. Place corn in a clean bowl and fill with clean, cool water. Rub corn vigorously between palms working in small batches at a time in order to remove outer layer of skin (the hull). The skin is pretty thin, so it might seem like not much is happening, but you will soon start to see the pieces floating in the water. Pour off the top of the water along with the hulls that have been removed and repeat this step until water poured off is almost completely clean, about 8 to 10 times, giving one final rinse and strain.
Now, it is time to grind nixtamal. Using a food processor place your cleaned kernels and blend until it has the consistency of flour with small pieces of corn. Traditionally, this grinding is done on your knees with a metate (a quern made of stone used for processing grains and seeds.
Prepare to make the dough. Place 1 ¾ cups of your ground nixtamal in a large mixing bowl, slowly pouring in warm water. Work mix with both hands to create a dough and knead until smooth and soft, not sticky, for about 5 minutes. You are looking for a Play-Doh-like consistency, so feel free to add water or more nixtamal until you achieve this.
(Before adding tortillas to the griddle, you will need to have it already hot so, heat griddle on high for at least 3 minutes, time that can be used into making each tortilla).
Making the tortillas. Using your hand, take a 1-inch sized piece of dough and press it until creating a flat disk. To prevent the dough sticking to the tortilla press, cut a thin plastic produce bag into two sheets. Place one sheet on bottom half of tortilla press, and place your dough disk in the center of the press. Place the second sheet of plastic over disk and close. Using lever, gently press tortilla press to flatten dough. Open press and carefully peel off only the top sheet of plastic. Flipping press into your dominant hand to make remaining plastic the top one and hold tortilla there to, carefully, peel plastic off.
Slide tortilla on to hot griddle and reduce heat to medium. As soon as edges of tortilla start to turn up slightly and it releases from griddle (about 15-25 seconds), flip over. Continue to cook for 2-3 minutes. Flip tortilla again and cook until no raw spots are present on both sides. If your tortilla starts to puff up, feel proud as some Mexican mothers will cheer telling you that you are now ready for marriage, meaning it is a good sign (if it does not puff up, do not worry, you can still do as you please with your loved ones and your tortilla is in great shape).
Remove tortilla from griddle while it is still pliable and it has not crisped. Place cooked tortilla inside a basket lined with a clean dish towel, and flip edges of tower over to keep tortilla warm. Continue to make tortillas and place them on top of the first one, being careful to close the towel and lid of tortillero. If your tortilla is not fully cooked in the middle, do not worry as it will continue to cook as they steam together in basket. If you have a big comal, or griddle, it is also customary to have a part of the comal warm, where tortillas will be stacked once done to keep warm and then moved to the comal. Do this only if you feel experienced enough and if you have a big enough area to work in. These tortillas are now ready to be served!
We are looking forward to your comments, experiences, reflections, and impressions after doing you tortillas. Please share with us your thoughts and questions about this, as it excites us knowing that some of you will try to make them!
Also, for some, display is everything so be sure to check out our variety of tortilleros. We have them in otomí embroidery and in elegant parota wood!