By Kyra Effren, TSB Food Writer
National Hispanic Heritage Month is recognized annually from September 15 until October 15, during which time the heritage, culture and contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans are celebrated.
Not the least of these contributions, particularly as it relates to this regular food column, is the tortilla.
It is believed the first tortilla was “invented” 10,000 years ago. According to history, the tortilla was consumed by the people of the Sierra MadreIn in 3,000 BC.
Today six billion tortillas a year are consumed throughout the world!
It is the ultimate wrap – lending itself to hundreds of fillings and transforming into sandwiches, pizzas, quesadillas, tortilla ‘cups’ and even lasagna. While originally a corn-based product, tortillas are also now made of flour, chick pea flour and come in different flavors.
My friend Jose Lopez came to this country from Mexico 26 years ago. He is part of a family of 13 siblings – seven brothers and six sisters. Jose is married and has two children.
The family – the siblings plus spouses and numerous relatives – gather together annually at a sister’s home in Royce City to celebrate Mexican Independence Day with a barbecue and – of course – tortillas!
So I decided it was time to learn more about the tortilla from an expert!
When Jose talks about tortillas, his eyes light up as he describes how his mother ground the cornmeal [masa] from corn grown in their village and made the tortillas from scratch. He says nothing can ever come close to the perfection of his mother’s tortillas
You will need masa harina – found in all Mexican groceries and many supermarkets and water.
That is all.
Plus a lot of skill!
1 cup masa flour and add ¾ to 1 cup very warm water*.
Mix together and allow to stand for five minutes. Then knead the dough (like making bread).
If the dough is too dry or too wet add meal or water accordingly (this is where the expertise comes in!)
(*Note: Some packages may come with slightly different proportions. You can also add a pinch of baking soda to aid the lightness of the tortilla!)
Pre heat a griddle or large flat skillet to medium hot.
Break off a piece of the dough – about the size of a golf ball – and roll it into a ball.
At this point, if you have a tortilla press you will press out the tortilla. If not, roll out the ball of dough with a rolling pin between two sheets of plastic wrap. You are aiming for a thin (1/8”) diameter of 5-6” inches.
Set on the hot griddle and cook from 30 seconds to one minute each side.
Continue the process with the rest of the dough.
Immediately wrap tortillas in a clean towel to keep the tortillas warm and pliable.
Jose described a particular favorite dish – Quesadillas stuffed with queso fresco or mozzarella cheese.
The tortilla is placed on the hot griddle. The cheese is sprinkled on top and cooks with the tortilla. You only cook on one side.
Finish the cooking by gently folding the tortilla over in half – with the cheese inside – and turn the quesadilla over to cook the other half.
When cooked, the quesadilla is gently pried apart and filled with any filling of your choice and often served with yellow beans (also available in Mexican groceries)
Some choices for fillings:
Shredded meat or chicken
Sautéed diced onions and tomatoes
And of course the untraditional fillings!
Eggs and bacon
And my personal favorite manchego cheese and guava paste
Dean Fearing taught me his Tortilla crisps: Tortilla Wedges lightly fried in oil until crisp then sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. I prefer to bake the wedges.
Preheat oven to 400°
Brush the pieces with oil, set on a well-oiled cookie sheet and sprinkle on the cinnamon sugar.
Bake until slightly browned. (Keep an eye on them – they turn from pale to burnt before you can answer that cell phone!)
Add more cinnamon sugar if necessary.
And for the adventurous:
Pre-heat oven to 375°.
Brush a tortilla with oil and press over the underside of an oiled oven-proof bowl or mold.
Bake 15 minutes or until slightly browned. Gently pry off the mold and sprinkle with salt and pepper if desired.
About the Author
McKinney resident Kyra Effren is a contributing writer for TownSquareBuzz.com’s “Food” section. She is a retired food stylist and contributing writer for the “Food” section of Dallas Morning News. In 1975, Effren opened Cours de Cuisine Cooking School in Dallas and in 1978, she was awarded The Commanderie des Cordon Bleu in France for her contributions to French cooking. She has edited multiple cookbooks and served as recipe tester for a number of cookbooks including both of the Mansion on Turtle Creek cookbooks by Dean Fearing and baking books by Nick Malgieri.
Kyra welcomes any and all reader comments and suggestions. What would you like to have for dinner?