Basic Recipe: Mexican Tortillas

Southwest Cuisine

pocture of enchiladas

Hand-made corn tortillas are the basic ingredient for Tex-Mex cuisine.

Tortillas, beans and chilies  are basic to Southwest cuisine. Chile peppers and beans were topics of earlier posts and now it’s time to let tortillas share the stage.  We just returned from Phoenix, AZ where I was reminded of two types of tortillas; corn and wheat. It is hard to describe Southern Mexican meals without talking about making corn tortillas from scratch. On the other hand people of Northern Mexico and the Southern states popularized wheat tortillas. There is a big difference.

tacosThe Aztec Indians used Masa harina, a flour made from corn soaked in lime, as the foundation for traditional tortillas, tamales, tacos and other Southern Mexican recipes. Corn tortillas are gluten-free and nutritious but the early Spaniards tried to make tortillas from ground cow corn and became sick due to improper soaking. Likewise, tortillas made with corn meal may be disappointing due to the coarse texture. Masa Harina, a finely ground and processed corn, is the preferred ingredient for corn tortillas. Even though they are harder to handle, fresh corn tortillas are flavorful, have a unique texture and well worth the effort to make. You’ll find the recipe later in this post.

wraaps made with white flour can be filled with veggies, meat and grains,

wraaps made with white flour can be filled with veggies, meat and grains,

Wheat tortillas were popularized by people in the Southern United States and Northern Mexico.  They are used for wraps as well as burritos. When preparing burritos, however, the chef would be remiss if the chile peppers were left out of the sauce.

Chile peppers were cultivated and often traded by Native Peoples, the use of peppers was adopted by Spaniards and  American settlers. Traders traveled the globe introducing chile peppers to East Indian and Asian cultures. Cumin and oregano are two other spices used to flavor the tortillas.

Chile powder is a blend of peppers, oregano, and cumin. It is a poplar mix when cooking Tex-Mex food.When served along with cilantro, tomatoes and lime juice you experience a truly unique taste.

Wheat tortillas are like other flat breads used throughout the world.  Wheat is inexpensive and easier to handle for wraps and burritos. The tortilla as a wrap acts like bread does in sandwiches; holds the ingredients together and any sauce is acceptable. Wheat flour tortillas can be flavored with spices for Indian cuisine or fried in oil as Native Americans do when making fry bread. You’ll find the recipe for wheat tortillas below.

Corn Tortillas
Serves 6
Once you've tasted fresh hand-made corn tortillas you will never get them from a grocer again.
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Ingredients
  1. 2 1/2 C fresh masa harina
  2. 1t sea salt
  3. 1 1/2 C warm water
Instructions
  1. In a medium bowl, mix masa harina and salt.
  2. Gradually add water and knead until the dough becomes smooth and firm but not sticky.
  3. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes
  4. Lightly dust the cutting board with masa harina.
  5. Turn the dough out onto board and form the mixture into 12 equal balls.
  6. Preheat an iron skillet over medium heat.
  7. Pat a ball of dough between your palms until it resembles a flat pancake.
  8. Place on the ungreased skillet to cook for about 2 min on each side,.
  9. Wrap the stack in a clean towel until ready to serve.
Notes
  1. To use a tortilla press, cut a heavy plastic freezer bag into 2 squares. Place one sheet of plastic on the opened press, then the dough and cover with other sheet. Bring the top lid down to press the dough into a 1/8th inch thick circle.
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Wheat Tortillas
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. 3 1/2 C all purpose flour (or substitute 2C unbleached and 1 1/2 C whole wheat flour)
  2. 1 t sea salt
  3. ½ cup vegetable shortening
  4. About 1 C lukewarm water
Instructions
  1. In a medium bowl, mix flour and salt.
  2. Gradually add water and knead until the dough becomes smooth and firm but not sticky.
  3. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes
  4. Lightly dust the cutting board with flour.
  5. Turn the dough out onto board and form the mixture into 18 equal balls.
  6. Preheat an iron skillet over medium heat.
  7. Pat a ball of dough between your palms until it resembles a flat pancake.
  8. Cook each one for about 2 min over medium heat just enough to get small brown patches on each side of the tortilla.
  9. Place on the ungreased skillet to cook for about 2 min on each side,.
  10. Wrap the stack in a clean towel until ready to serve
Notes
  1. To use a tortilla press, cut a heavy plastic freezer bag into 2 squares. Place one sheet of plastic on the opened press, then the dough and cover with other sheet. Bring the top lid down to press the dough into a 1/8th inch thick circle.o use a tortilla press, cut a heavy plastic freezer bag into 2 squares. Place one sheet of plastic on the opened press, then the dough and cover with other sheet. Bring the top lid down to press the dough into a 1/8th inch thick circle.o use a tortilla press, cut a heavy plastic freezer bag into 2 squares. Place one sheet of plastic on the opened press, then the dough and cover with other sheet. Bring the top lid down to press the dough into a 1/8th inch thick circle.o use a tortilla press, cut a heavy plastic freezer bag into 2 squares. Place one sheet of plastic on the opened press, then the dough and cover with other sheet. Bring the top lid down to press the dough into a 1/8th inch thick circle.
Family Meals Project http://familymealsproject.com/