Recipe: How to make tortillas

|February 21, 2011|read comments (0)
Author: Mama's Kitchen

Of course I'm Italian – and I feel blessed because of the wonderful cuisine of the Italian people.

And I am very thankful that I have an Italian mother who believes in GOOD FOODS which can be made by any culture!  Her openness to world cuisines, and her willingness to learn was passed on to me at an early age.  There isn't a thing she can't cook or bake.

Mom does not care for tortillas very much – but that doesn't mean we can't make them so that others could enjoy them.  I, myself, I love tortillas and there is so much you can do with them.  And, as always – homemade is best!


Tortilla – a thin pancake made from cornmeal

Named by the Spanish conquistators – tortillas are an important part of the diet in South American countries. In Spanish cookery a tortilla is a flat omelette usually filled with potatoes, onions, or salt cod, which is cut into quarters like a cake.Traditionally grilled on earthenware utensils, they are used as bread and often filled and stuffed. The original Indian method of preparation consisted of kneading the cornmeal dough (masa) on a stone called a metate and then shaping into circles 8 inches wide  and 1/8inch thick.

Tortillas can be bought ready made cooked or raw. Fillings include guacomole, fajitas, grated cheese (queso), tomato salsa, chopped raw onions, picadillo (spicy meat sauce).


Main dishes include:

Tacos: where the tortilla is used as a sandwich,

Enchiladas: where the filling is rolled in tortilla then coated with sauce and cooked in an oven.

Chilaquiles: thin fried strips of tortilla coated with sauce and cooked in an oven.

Quesadillas: tortilla is filled folded into turnovers and then fried.

Mexican breakfast: fried eggs on fried tortillas garnished with tomatoes, crushed red peppers and avocado slices.



How tortillas are traditionally made

Chilli Facts

Some early Spanish priests, aware of the passion the native people had for Chillis and unsure of the Chilli's powers, assumed that they were aphrodisiacs and warned against consumption this probably added to their popularity among the adventurous newcomers.

Eating chillies is addictive. When capsaicin comes in contact with the nerves in your mouth, pain signals are sent to the brain. Subsequently, the brain releases endorphins, natural painkillers, that create a feeling of well being. The more spicy food ingested the more endorphins released. The effect is a pleasurable feeling that a true Chilli-head craves.
The best relief for a burning mouth is mild yogurt or sour cream. These foods contain casein, a protein that breaks down the bond that capsaicin forms with the mouth's pain receptors.

Tortilla are usually made from cornmeal, though flour can also be successfully used to make them.

2 cups masa harina
1 1/4 cups hot but not boiling water

Masa harina (corn flour) can be purchased in most supermarkets. Quaker and Maseca brands are both excellent.

If you are lucky enough to have a specialty Mexican market nearby, you can purchase the masa dough freshly made and ready to press or roll out.

Place the masa harina and salt in a large bowl. Add the water and mix with your hands to make a dough that comes together in a soft ball.Continue mixing and kneading until the dough is elastic enough to hold together without cracking, about 3 minutes. If using right away, divide the dough into equal portions – golf ball size and cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel. If making ahead for later use, wrap the whole ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 1 day and then divide.

To form the tortillas, place a portion of dough between 2 pieces of plastic wrap/cling film.

Press with a tortilla press or roll out with a rolling pin into a circle 6 or 7 inches in diameter. Use your fingers to smooth any raggedy edges.

Continue with the remaining portions until the dough is used up.


To cook

Heat a heavy skillet, griddle or comal over high heat until it begins to smoke.

Peel the plastic wrap off a tortilla and place the tortilla in the pan.

Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook for 30 seconds. Turn and cook on the other side for 1 minute.

Turn again, and cook until the tortilla puffs a bit but is still pliable, not crisp, about 30 seconds more.

Remove and continue until all the tortillas are cooked.

Serve immediately as this is when they are the best.

This type of cornmeal tortilla contains no wheat gluten, they are an ideal bread alternative for those who are gluten intolerant.


Whatever you do, don't confuse corn flour with corn meal. Corn meal is made from a completely different process, and it simply won't work for tortilla making.


You'll need a cast-iron skillet or griddle and a tortilla press, too.

Tortilla presses have become pretty easy to find in kitchen-supply stores. Not exactly a high-tech gadget, if you pay more than $20 for one, you've paid way too much. If you can't find a tortilla press, it is possible (but not preferable) to press out your tortillas on a flat surface using a heavy, flat-bottomed dish. You'll also need some plastic bags of  the sandwich or freezer variety, but more about that later.

In most recipes for corn tortillas, the proportion of ingredients called for is

2 cups of Masa Harina to 1-1/4 to 1-1/3 cups of water.


Tortilla-making tips:

When mixing the masa, mix all the Masa Harina with 1-1/4 cup of the water. You can work it with your hands, if you like. If it seems too dry, add additional water, a teaspoon at a time. Too much water, and you won't be able to peel the plastic off the tortilla; too little and your tortilla will be dry and crumbly. Unlike pastry dough, masa does not suffer from being over-handled.

The masa will dry out quickly. Keep it covered with a piece of plastic wrap/cling film or used waxed paper or grease-proof paperwhile making your tortillas.

Hold the pressed tortilla (with the plastic on both sides) in one hand. Peel away the top plastic from the tortilla (not the tortilla from the plastic). Flip it over into your other hand, and peel away the other piece of plastic.

Gently place the tortilla on the hot skillet or griddle. It should make a soft sizzling sound when you do. If your tortillas are not perfect circles, don't worry.

If your skillet or griddle is at the right temperature, a tortilla can be cooked in no more than 2 minutes.

The use of cast-iron utensils is important. You are cooking at high heat on a dry surface, and a lighter-weight utensil could warp.

Brown spots on your tortillas are good — an indication that they are handmade, rather than store bought.

Place your hot tortillas in an aluminum foil pouch wrapped in a kitchen towel or napkin. You want them to stay hot and tender.

Corn tortillas can be made 2 hours in advance, wrapped and reheated. Bake, in a 350°F oven for about 12 minutes.


Flour Tortillas

12 oz plain Flour
2 teaspoons baking soda/powder
2 tablespoons lard or other white fat
8 fl oz warm water

Sift flour and baking powder into a bowl
Cut fat into small pieces and mix in
Stir in warm water to form a soft dough
Knead until smooth and elastic
Divide into golf ball size balls cover and allow to stand for 30 minutes
Roll out in 7-inch rounds
Cook as above



Fajita is a TexMex word meaning "a little strap" or quirt.

Most people associate "fajita" with the strips of meat described below and the beef version is best made using well marinaded skirt. Beef skirt steak comes from the outer covering of the breast near where the brisket comes from. There are only 2 skirts per cow, a highly flavorful cut of meat as a result of the fat membrane that "burns" off when cooked.

Fajitas are made from marinaded meat which is char-grilled or barbequed, oven broiled or roast, or fried. The cooked meat is then cut into strips which are rolled in a tortilla usually with the addition of other ingredients.

Marinades for beef fajitas rely on acid ingredients like lime juice not just for flavor, but to tenderize the meat. So that the marinade will have time to work, beef fajitas should be marinated up to 24 hours.

Putting together your marinade can be a creative experience. Grill or Barbecue:
This is the traditional method of preparation for fajitas.

Drain the marinade from the meat and cook it about 3 inches above the coals for approximately 6 minutes on each side. When the meat is cooked to your liking, remove it from the grill and let it rest for 5 or 10 minutes. Cut it across the grain and diagonally into finger-length strips.


Oven Broil or Roast:

Broil the meat about 4 inches below the broiler flame for 5 to 6 minutes per side; Or roast in a pan with marinade covered for the forst two thirds of cooking. Finish uncovered for last ten minutes or so. let the meat rest and slice as for grilled fajitas.



Drain the meat; then cut it across the grain, diagonally, into finger-length strips. Fry the strips over high heat in a large cast-iron skillet or wok, working in batches if necessary, turning them frequently.

They should take no more than 1-1/2 to 2 minutes to cook.

Roll the meat in a flour tortilla along with, grilled or fried onions and bell peppers (red and/or green), pico de gallo, guacamole and maybe a little sour cream and fresh coriander.


Onions and Peppers:

Heat your frying pan or wok and add a few tablespoons of olive oil. Add 1 large (or 2 medium) onions, separated into rings, and 2 green bell peppers (or 1 green and 1 red), cut into strips.

When the oil is heated, add the onion rings and pepper strips and stir-fry them just until they start to get soft and brown 3 or 4 minutes.



Make or buy tortillas – select the thickest ones you can find, 6 or 7 inches in diameter. Warm them up in foil packages, six or eight at a time, and placing them in a 325°F oven for about 20 minutes. Wrap them in a cloth napkin to bring them to the table. Better yet, use a tortilla keeper.Tortillas can be used in a variety of recipes from appetizers to desserts – don't be afraid to experiment!

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