The tortilla (tor-tee’-yah) was named by Spanish conquistadores who observed native peoples of the New World making small, fried corn cakes (torta in Spanish). The Aztecs soaked corn kernels in water and powdered limestone, removed the husks and pounded the softened kernels into a paste. This same process is still used today, more than five hundred years later, to make hominy, a nutritious staple. Masa harina, dried hominy flour, is used today to make corn tortillas.
Recipe for Corn Tortillas
Traditionally, corn tortillas were made by hand-slapping the dough into rounds. An easier way is to use a tortilla press or a rolling pin. See the tortilla recipe below for details.
2 cups masa harina
11/3 cups hot water, approximately
Place the masa in a wide bowl. Gradually add the water, mixing with your hand. Knead in the bowl, adding enough water to make the dough soft without being sticky. The dough can sit for half an hour or be used immediately.
Make small (golf-ball size) balls and cover.
Heat a griddle or a cast-iron skillet to medium-high.
If using a press, place a piece of waxed paper or thick plastic sheet on the bottom of the press. Place a ball onto the plastic, then cover with another piece of waxed paper or plastic. Close the top and press. When opened, you should see a neat little tortilla. Remove the upper piece of plastic.
If rolling the tortilla dough, place the ball between two sheets of waxed paper or plastic and roll into 6-inch rounds approximately 1/8-inch thick or as thin as possible without tearing. Irregular rounds are fine – they taste just as good!
For either shaping method, remove the tortilla while still on the waxed paper or plastic and place it dough-side down onto your hand. Remove the upper plastic, then place the tortilla onto the heated griddle. Within half a minute, it should begin to brown. Flip and cook on the other side. It should puff up. It can be turned several times to keep it cooking evenly without burning. Within two minutes, your tortilla should be done. Repeat till you run out of tortilla dough.
Stack and wrap cooked tortillas in a towel to keep them warm.
Tip: If the dough is crumbly and won’t hold its shape, add water a teaspoon at a time. If it is sticky, add a bit more masa until it handles well.
Recipe for Wheat Tortillas
The Spanish brought corn to Europe and introduced wheat to the Americas. The wheat tortilla, popular all over the world, is simple to prepare using the following recipe.
2 cups whole wheat flour or combination white and whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup hot water, approximately
Place flour in a wide bowl. Add salt, then gradually add just enough hot water to create a soft dough. Knead for approximately five minutes, cover and let the dough rest for at least 20 minutes.
Heat a cast-iron skillet or griddle to medium-high heat.
Flour the preparation area. Divide the dough into small (walnut-sized) balls, place in the flour and cover. Lightly press one ball into the floured work area, then with a rolling pin, roll into rounds of the desired size. Lift from the flour, turn over and roll from the opposite side. Work from the centre outward to keep an even thickness.
Lightly dust off the excess flour and place on the hot griddle. Cook following the directions above in the recipe for corn tortillas.
The entire family can enjoy the rolling and cooking process - and the tortilla eating afterwards!