Everyone loves Mexican food. Well, everyone in America. In Europe it hasn’t quite taken off yet but I believe it will with time. Growing up I’ve always had a decent selection of Mexican joints around to whet my appetite, but to be honest even cheap Tex Mex a la Chevy’s has its appeal. The fact that Taco Bell has a cult following and that you can find tomatoes canned with diced chilies in Iowa just speaks to the US’s love of “South of the Border” flavors. Despite all of this I believe that most of us have never really had true Mexican food. I’m talking fresh masa tortillas, cotija, hoja santa leaves, and more. As much as I could go on about these ingredients and this cuisine there is no way I could top Alex Stupak’s passion for this cuisine. (I’ll save my soapboxing for Greek food.) My local library has a used book store and I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advanced copy of his new book Tacos. Now I had staged (culinary term for working a shift) in his West Village restaurant Empellon for a day so I was well aware of the passion. I snatched that tome up so fast you wouldn’t believe. And I’m so glad I did. There is such an emphatic voice for this food contained within that I was immediately moved to run out and buy masa harina, a corn flour, and make my own corn tortillas. I was also lucky enough to have received a tortilla press for Christmas. Not 100% essential as abuelitas have been making them by hand for centuries but it sure makes quick work of the process.
Making tortillas is actually quite easy. It’s a mere two ingredients, three if you add salt like I do. The hardest part of it is getting a rhythm. The dough has to stay moist, the finished tortillas have to stay warm, and they each cook for about 55 seconds. That being said once you’re ready to rock and roll you can knock out a dozen in less than 15 minutes. Well worth it if you ask me. The tortillas we did not use I sliced into strips and fried for tortilla soup, though you could use them as tortilla chips too. They are so hearty that they maintained their crunch all through out the duration of the soup.
I’m starting a cleanse and these babies are going to be the only “bread” (or as I call them “vehicles”) allowed. Doctor boyfriend whole heartedly supports this line of thinking.
Makes a dozen small corn tortillas:
1 1/2 cups masa harin
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon kosher/sea salt (omitted in Stupak’s recipe but added for my personal preference).
1. Place two skillets on the stove. One on medium heat and one on high. Mix together all the ingredients. It should be soft and supple but never sticky. If you’re too sticky than add another tablespoon of masa until it is no longer sticking. Cover with a moistened tea towel.
2. Prep your tortilla press by covering with the cut sections of a plastic freezer bag. Roll a ball of masa in your hands about the size of a golf ball. Place it down on the bottom of the tortilla press. Push down gently with two fingers to flatten it slightly. If the sides crack your dough is too dry, add another tablespoon of water and remix.
3. Make sure your plastic pieces are not wrinkled and gently but firmly close the tortilla press. Beware that they have a tendency to flatten one side more than the other. Peak in the side while you press if needed to get a feel for it.
4. Place the tortilla in the medium heat pan for 10 second. Flip onto the high heat pan for 15 seconds. Flip again and cook for 30 seconds. Stash your disks of golden corny goodness in a warm spot or wrapped in a dish towel or tortilla holding bag. (Yeah, I have one of those.)
5. Repeat until done.
*NOTES* To keep the tortillas warm consider purchasing a small tortilla bag. It’s a lined fabric pouch often times super colorful. Ignore the classic plastic tortilla containers. They do nothing to keep the heat in and instead often cause condensation. Mine cost about $8 off Amazon. My tortillas now stay warm for about 1.5 hours. DO NOT REHEAT CORN TORTILLAS. Reheating doesn’t activate some hidden poison or anything but it renders your tortillas brittle and flavorless, which defeats the purpose of making fresh ones at all.