|Black bean chili and sweet potato casserole from Fresh from the Vegan Slow Cooker.|
PART ONE: I was having a long video chat with my good friend Helene, and during the course of our conversation, she started telling me that she had been making homemade corn tortillas. I was surprised and impressed. I have, and do, make a lot of things from scratch, but I had never made corn tortillas. I made wheat ones a long time ago, but never corn. Never even considered it, but now that Helene was telling me how good the homemade ones were, I was all ears. Then she showed me her cast iron tortilla press and basket for keeping the tortillas warm, and my 'kitchen appliance' disease started to kick in. I could feel my body craving not only fresh tortillas, but a TORTILLA PRESS. How did I not know I needed one of those before now? Why, I even had a jar of masa harina in the cupboard. Give me strength.
|The bowl will be covered and the dough allowed to rest.|
I got hold of myself, as I looked around the kitchen for any spare space to store another gadget. I told myself I would have to make tortillas on a fairly regular basis using other means before I would allow myself to purchase a tortilla press, and I would have to give something away to make room for it on a shelf, should the need arise. In the meantime, I would use the bottom of a small cast iron frying pan to press any tortillas I made.
I got out my (signed but rarely used) Rick Bayless Mexican Everyday cookbook, and studied up on tortilla making. I also looked the subject up in Terry Romaro's Vegan Eats World. By the time Helene sent me the video she had watched to learn the fine art of tortilla making, I was ready to go. Like any specialty cooking skill, making tortillas is easy and fast, it is an acquired art, and not one that can be mastered in one try. The ratio of masa harina to water has to be correct, as does the temperature of the griddle and the length of cooking time. But it's easier than you think, and the results that even a beginner can achieve are worth the effort. I watched the video three times. I was ready.
|Baking on the cast iron griddle.|
I made half a recipe, pressing my tortillas with my frying pan, and using a rolling pin to achieve the correct diameter and thickness. I was disappointed to note my tortillas didn't puff up as in the video, but it's hard to be perfect without practice, right? The initial tortilla, shared with my husband and our three-year-old guest, disappeared in a flash — before the thought of photographing it even entered my brain. It was a revelation in flavor and texture. The three-year-old was clamoring for more, so I made another one, and it too, disappeared within seconds, as did the third. I placed the one remaining ball of dough into a plastic bag to store for the next day, as recommended in the video. (It got a little dry in the fridge and I had to add a bit more water.)
I cooked the last tortilla the next day and ate it for lunch with a bowl of leftover black bean chili and sweet potato casserole from Fresh from the Vegan Slow Cooker by Robin Robertson. When I cooked it, it started to puff a little, but not the way I wanted it to. Even though I am a rank beginner, and haven't mastered the finer aspects of making tortillas, they still tasted fantastic and had a wonderful texture. And remember, I don't (yet) have a tortilla press. :)
This is the video my friend sent me. I'm also sharing a link to Rick Bayless' directions for making tortillas. Following Rick's directions (sort of) for heating the griddle, I shifted my round pan so one side was closer to the flame than the other. Maybe that's why I saw a little puffing action. In any case, it looks like I may be making more tortillas, and if they improve, I'll let you know.
PART TWO: I made another batch of tortilla dough after re-watching the videos and re-reading the directions. I'm pretty sure I didn't use enough water the first time, and I pressed my tortillas too thin with my rolling pin. This time I added extra water, kneaded longer, and used only my frying pan to press the dough — not the rolling pin — so the tortillas were a bit thicker. I was aiming for 1/8-inch thick.
|'Puffery', as my friend Helene calls it.|
Can you see the puffing up of my tortilla? Can you see it in spite of the terrible lighting? It wasn't a total puff, but it was close. I'm leery of telling just how excited I was to see the tortilla puff up lest you realize how boring my life is. Of course, if cooking success is important to you, you'll understand.
|This is pretty, isn't it?|
This time I cooked four tortillas and kept them wrapped in a towel and under the lid of my bamboo steamer, since I don't (yet) have a tortilla basket. Actually, the lid over a plate on the counter makes a pretty good keep-warm basket, I keep telling myself. No need to get another basket, right? Rick Bayless says that the tortillas aren't fully cooked to perfection until they've spent a little time stacked in the basket, where they improve in taste and texture, and I believe him. He must be right, because this batch was even better than the first. Not only did the tortillas taste amazing, but they were flexible and had an air pocket.
I think I will keep making corn tortillas. Now I just need a copy of The Taco Cleanse so I can put my tortillas to their best use!
|I really did make four, but it's hard to just look at them and not eat one.|
Do you make corn tortillas? Do you have a weakness for kitchen gadgets? Have you bought any kitchen equipment that at first seemed like excess but you now love? Any you wish you hadn't bought?