Tortillas de Maíz

Tortillas are everywhere and are considered one of Mexico's most cherished foods. According to Tortilla Industry Association, Mayan legend has it, tortillas were invented by a peasant for his hungry king in ancient times. The first tortillas, which date approximately 10,000 years before Christ, were made of native corn with dried kernel.

Traditionally, maize tortillas are made from nixtamalized maize; kernels were soaked in a solution of lime (calcium hydroxide) and water to remove their skins; this also increases the bioavailability of then-unknown niacin. The grains were then ground into maize dough (masa). A golf ball-sized piece of dough was patted down by hand into a thin pancake shape, placed on a hot griddle (comal), and cooked on both sides. This tortilla-making process is still used today in southern Mexico, according to Wikipedia.

Tortillas de Maíz Recipe

From the book The Art of Mexican Cooking by Diana Kennedy with minor modifications by Marcelino Raygoza

Makes about 2 pounds (900 G) or 4 ½ cups masa

Ingredients

  • 1 (250 ml) cup of water
  • 2 rounded teaspoons powdered lime
  • 1 (450 g: 2 ½ cups) pound dried corn kernels

Directions

First run the dried corn kernels through your hands to pick out any small stones, pieces of chaff, etc. Rinse thoroughly in cold water and drain.

Put the rinsed corn into a pan an add enough water to come at least 1 inch (2.5 cm) above the surface of the corn. Stir 1 cup (250 ml) of water into the powdered lime and pour the mixture through a fine strainer into the pan, pressing out any soft lumps with the back of a wooden spoon and discarding the hard residue. Stir the corn well.

Set the pan over medium heat. As soon as the mixture heats up, the outer skin of the corn kernels will turn bright yellow. Cook until small bubbles appear on the surface – the mixture should not boil. Lower the heat and continue cooking until the yellow skin can easily be sloughed off the kernels – test by rubbing a few kernels between your fingers. This should take about 15 minutes more. Set the corn aside in the warm liquid for about 12 hours. It is now called nixtamal. Drain, rinse in cold water, rubbing off the skins.

Place the nixtamal corn into a corn mill/grinder. Grind the corn in small batches. It may take couple of times to grind the corn to the correct fine texture.

Knead the masa well until it is completely smooth. Moisten your hands with water then divide the dough into 15 equal parts. To do this, take a small piece of dough and roll it into a ball about 1 ½ inches (3.75 cm) in diameter. Place all but one of the balls under plastic wrap so that they do not dry out.

Heat and ungreased comal or griddle over a medium flame. Open up the tortilla press and place a small plastic bag on the bottom plate. Place a ball of the dough on the bottom bag, a little off center toward the hinge rather than the pressing lever, and press it out with your fingers to flatten a little. Cover with the second bag and press down firmly but not too fiercely.

Open the press, remove the top bag, and place the tortilla in the palm of your hand. Very carefully peel the bag off the flattened dough. Do not try to peel the dough off the bag. Keeping your hand as horizontal as possible, lay the tortilla flat onto the comal. There should be a slight sizzle as the dough touches the surface. Leave for about 15-20 seconds, flip the tortilla over onto the second side and cook for a further 30-45 seconds. Flip back onto the first side again and cook for 30 seconds more.

As the tortillas are made, they should be placed one on top of the other in a basket lined with a cloth to preserve the heat and keep them moist. They can also be wrapped and frozen.


From the book The Art of Mexican Cooking by Diana Kennedy

Powdered Lime - Food Grade Calcimum Hydroxide (Cal Mexicana)

  • Food Grade Calcium Hydroxide (lime)
  • Powdered lime combined with water converts corn into nixtamal

    Great River Organic Milling, Organic Whole Grains Corn, 25-Pound Package

    • Works for homemade tortillas. Good choice if you do not live close to stores that sell corn for making homemade tortillas
    • Certified organic; non-GMO grains

      Corn and Grain Manual Clamp Grinder

      • Cast iron construction provides long-lasting use, Grinding plates adjust for a perfect grind
      • Make homemade tortillas by grinding nixtamal into dough (masa). May require a second or third grinding to produce the appropriate texture for making tortillas