Corn Tortillas: An Easy Recipe and Some Fun Facts About This Mexican Staple

Corn tortillas warm and fresh from the griddle are an easy, delicious, and authentic addition to any Mexican meal. This economical, low-fat, and gluten-free food contains only corn flour, water, and salt, and requires no special skill or equipment, which makes it an easy and healthful addition to your cooking repetoire. Whether you like them smothered in rice and beans for a tostada, covered in melted cheese for a quesadilla, wrapped around burrito fillings, or just dipped into salsa for a light snack or appetizer, once you’ve learned to make your own corn tortillas from scratch they are sure to show up on your dinner table on a regular basis. Read on to learn a bit about the origins of this enduring Mexican classic, and discover an easy recipe that can make you a tortilla master.

Corn tortillas were first made by the Aztec people who lived in Meso-America over five hundred years ago. Corn in its many forms was a staple of the Aztec diet, but archaeological research has revealed that corn was more than just a source of nutrients. The Aztecs considered corn to be a sacred plant, perhaps in part because it thrived on the relatively infertile land where other vegetables could not survive. The fact that corn tortillas have endured as a dietary staple for the residents of modern Mexico probably has quite a bit to do with the fact that corn is a strong crop for today’s farmers, just as it was for the Aztec farmers half a century ago.

To make your own corn tortillas at home, all you need is corn flour, salt, and water. The more finely ground your corn flour is, the better your tortillas will be, so avoid coarse corn meal. Ideally, seek out “Masa Harina,” a very fine corn flour that is distributed by several companies including Quaker Oats. To make about 10 small tortillas, start with 2 cups of flour. Add a pinch of salt, mix, and add between 1-1/4 and 1-1/3 cups of hot, but not boiling water. There should be only enough water to bind the flour into a workable dough; if the dough is too wet it will be difficult to shape, so start with the minimum amount of water. You can add more later in the process if the dough feels crumbly. Then, work the dough with your hands for about three to four minutes, until it is elastic and evenly textured. Now the dough is ready, and it’s time to shape your corn torillas!

To get your corn tortillas thin so that they will taste light and airy instead of thick and chewy, follow this simple rolling pin method. For a six inch tortilla, tear off a small ball of dough, about the size of a golf ball. Place the ball between two pieces of plastic cling wrap so that the dough won’t stick to your rolling pin or to your table. Then, roll the dough into a thin, even circle. If you’ve never made corn tortillas before, you will probably end up with an uneven shape or raggedy edges on your first try. Luckily, you can just crumple the dough back into a ball and try again! Unlike cookie or pastry dough, you can work tortilla dough for as long as you want without worrying that it will become too tough. Fragile doughs have gluten which can become overly chewy if handled a lot, but corn tortillas are gluten free so you can work them hard without any worries.

Once you’ve shaped your corn tortillas, it’s time to hit the stove. Heat a cast-iron skillet or a griddle to very high heat. Then, peel the plastic wrap off a tortilla and gently place it on your pan. That’s right- no oil or butter. If your tortilla makes a soft “sizzle” when it hits the surface of your pan or griddle, that means you’re cooking at the right heat. If it is silent, turn the heat up! Cook for roughly thirty seconds, then flip it to cook the other side. Let it sit for one minute, until it has puffed and risen slightly, then flip it back to the first side for another thirty seconds. This will give you an evenly cooked tortilla. If brown spots appear on the surface of your corn tortillas, don’t worry, as this is a normal result of cooking at high heat in a dry pan. As you make your corn tortillas one at a time, transfer them to a toaster oven or into a basket covered with a cloth napkin to keep them warm so that they’ll taste and feel as fresh as possible when it’s time to enjoy them!

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