Every summer I’m struck again by the abundance of amazing foods to eat: fresh salsas and sauces bursting with seasonal herbs and loaded with flavor, grilled meats and seafood, sun-ripened produce to be enjoyed roasted or raw. With so many options at your fingertips, it’s almost impossible to get bored. The only dilemma is choosing the best way to consume them all.
In my opinion, handmade tortillas are suitable for almost any ingredient. They are light, so as not to weigh down the meal, but with enough energy to defend against the strong summer flavors. They are also inexpensive and easy to make. Once you’ve knocked out a batch at home and experienced how they raise a simple taco or fajita, you’ll be hesitant to go back to the store-bought type.
The first step to classic corn tortillas is to buy masa harina. Once you have that, you are a third of the way, because tortillas only have three ingredients. Masa harina is cornmeal that has been soaked in an alkaline solution (as opposed to acidic), so the flavor is markedly different from traditional cornmeal (which hasn’t been soaked in anything but is usually dried. or roasted). While I guess technically you could making tortillas with cornmeal, the flavor and texture would be disappointing. Fear not, masa harina is available in almost any traditional grocery store.
The next step is shape and size. Now, while there are generations of people who have made tortillas without a tortilla press, it is not as easy as it seems. Tortillas should be 4 to 6 inches in diameter with uniform thickness. This uniformity allows for easy flipping and even cooking, which means your tortilla won’t fall apart when you fill it. Tortilla presses are also widely available at kitchen stores and online, with the cheapest starting at around $ 15. If a tortilla press isn’t in the cards for you, don’t worry. You can press your tortillas under a flat bottom pan or heavy pie plate.
Once you’ve prepared your dough and chosen your pressing method, you’re going to want to select some sort of spoon to make sure each tortilla starts with the same amount of dough. I have a cookie scoop that works, but you can also use a spoon or a teaspoon. I keep my tortillas small because I like to use two per taco (better for absorbing the sauce), so I use about ounce of batter (a little smaller than a ping pong ball). But try out a few sizes and see what works for you. Pressing will ensure an even, round tortilla whether you use ½ ounce or 2 ounces.
The last step is a hot non-stick cooking surface: cast iron or a non-stick skillet. Use a paper towel to wipe a super thin layer of vegetable oil off your cooking surface. Avoid over-oiling the pan; not only will the oil burn after a few batches, the oil will break down the dough, making it a soggy tortilla. Tortillas only take about a minute per side, so preparing them doesn’t take much time. As soon as you remove them from the pan, place them on a plate covered with a tea towel (or in a tortilla warmer), so that their own steam keeps them supple.
Yield: 12-15 tortillas
2 cups masa harina
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 ½ cups Hot water
In a medium bowl, combine masa and salt. Add water and mix until a smooth paste is obtained. I usually start with a wooden spoon and then move to my hands when the spoon gets bulky. You want the dough to be soft but not stick to your hands. If your consistency is a bit bad, add more masa or water accordingly.
Using a spoon, distribute the dough and roll it into even balls. Place a ball of dough between two sheets of parchment paper on a tortilla press. Press until flat. You can also use a flat-bottomed pan or pie plate to press between pieces of parchment on your countertop.
Immediately place the tortilla on a hot, lightly oiled pan and cook 1 minute per side, using a spatula to flip. When finished, remove and place in a covered dish or tortilla warmer. Repeat with the rest of the dough.
Enjoy with all your favorite summer toppings.