Okay, I admit it. I’m crazy. You want to know why? This morning, before the first pot of coffee had finished brewing, I made corn tortillas by hand.
Let me back up.
All during the week, I have been eating gorgeous food. Not just at home, where I cook and dance in the kitchen and eat with my eyes open and my mouth singing. Writing this blog has made me notice food more than ever before, and I thought I was pretty aware before. But now, when I buy food at the farmers’ market, I take pictures of it. When I rush home and assemble my treasures on the kitchen counters, I take pictures of it. And I’m teaching myself to delay that need for immediate gratification, because I take pictures of the meal before I dive into it. I love doing this. (And thank you to all of you who have been writing and calling, saying how much you enjoy reading this.) I’m thriving.
But I have also been eating well at work. Life at Scribes, at the Hugo House, is a gorgeous mix of connected kids, wacky writing assignments, and the joy that comes from being in a group of people who love to do what I love to do. From 9 to 4, I’m awake, usually laughing. Dana, my fellow teacher, is a joy. The students’ faces shine with pleasure. (If someone had given me two weeks with fellow writers when I was 16, I think my face would have fallen off from all the smiling.) And we are eating well.
Kim, the lovely young woman who cooks for us, has been going out of her way to make my experience filled with safe tastes. After the first day there, I wrote a post here about how little she knew about gluten. But I don’t blame her. I didn’t know much before the celiac diagnosis either. Most of America doesn’t understand this. However, I’m happy to help educate. Well, she’s a fast learner. She cares about food, has been cooking at co-ops and family functions for years. And she makes everything by hand. When we stop for a snack at 3, she has organic smoothies for all the kids. She has made lasagna, bread pudding with whiskey sauce, and vegetarian quiche. And each time, she has something on the side for me. She made a crustless quiche in a tiny pie plate for my lunch. She made scrambled eggs for breakfast, along with the bread pudding. And she checks every label and tells me what I can and cannot eat at the table.
I love her.
On Tuesday, she made tacos for the kids. The tortillas were really flavorful. When I asked her what brand she had used (not only so I could buy it, but also so I could check to make sure I could eat it), she said, “Oh, I made them.”
She made corn tortillas from scratch, for twenty adolescents, and two astonished teachers. Wow.
When I asked her what recipe she used, she pointed toward the Rick Bayless book on Mexican cooking. “But, you know, it’s just dough. I just mix water with masa harina and put it on the grill. It’s the easiest thing in the world.”
And she’s right. I ran home and looked up corn tortillas on 101 Cookbooks, my bible these days. There, I found that masa harina is corn flour, made from dried corn kernels that have been cooked, then soaked in lime and ground into corn flour. Apparently, you can buy some at any local tortilla factory. And today, at the Magnolia Farmers Market, the goat cheese maker told me about a Mexican grocery store in Pike Place that has fresh masa. More on this later. But this fascinating read made me even more eager to try the process.
So, during one break, I walked up to Madison Market and bought some of Bob’s Red Mill masa harina. I knew it probably wasn’t the most authentic brand I could buy, but it was there. I threw it on the counter by the coffee maker a couple of days ago, and intended to make some that night. But teaching
New recipes always seem like they will take forever to master. I used to feel as though I should clear an afternoon to make that cake or casserole. But lately, I’ve been making something new at least four times a week, and every time, I’m surprised by how little time and energy it takes. And how much more I gain from those few minutes than I would have by driving to the store and buying something in the gourmet deli section. For all those of you who claim you have no time to cook at home: stop talking and start cooking.
Everything tastes so much better when I cook it at home. And that’s no mystery. Most American versions of foods from around the world are merely pale imitations. Check out what Rick Bayless said about this:
PG: That’s true. What I find interesting is that in much of the country, Americans have expressed a strong preference for the flour tortilla over the corn tortilla. Why do you think that is?
RB: Because they can’t get good corn tortillas. Americans eat flour tortillas, not Mexicans. You need to go to a specialty food restaurant in Mexico to be served four tortillas. Spaniards brought wheat flour to Mexico and turned it into an unleavened flatbread.
Corn tortillas must be baked and eaten right away. Nobody in America wants to hear about this. They want something they can put in their refrigerator for a couple of days so.……Americans usually haven’t had the chance to try them prepared in the proper way. It would be just like you were going to get a couple of day old french bread in France. There is nothing you can do with it. It’s a shame because corn tortillas are so infinitely superior to flour. There is no added fat or salt. Almost 100% grain. Flour tortillas are high in fat, salty usually refined flour.
Hm, sounds pretty typically American to me. No thanks.
So this morning, even though my kitchen counters were cluttered with dishes and food left over from last night’s cooking, and I was still tired from the week, I reached for the package of masa harina, spontaneously. I threw some of it in my copper bowl, added water, and waited for this to be difficult. It wasn’t. I’ll post the recipe below, although I feel a little sheepish about calling it a recipe. It’s more like commen sense and working with your hands.
I tasted the first one and fell in love. Thicker, more densely packed with taste, and infinitely better than commercial corn tortillas. And this is a boon to us celiacs in particular, because so many commercial corn tortillas are dusted with wheat flour before being put in the package, to make sure they don’t stick together. And that makes them not gluten-free. Aarrgh.
So I had a little stack of misshapen corn tortillas. What to do? Thank goodness I still had food out on the counter. I grabbed some of the organic heirloom cherry tomatoes left over from last week’s farmers’ market and sauteed them in the pan still hot from the tortillas. A little olive oil, sea salt, and then some goat cheese at the last moment. As it was cooking, I cut up some avocado in thick chunks. And then I had the whole mess for breakfast. And sighed with pleasure.
And then the coffee was ready.
° First, find the best masa harina you can find. Bob’s is pretty good, although I’m looking forward to exploring.
° Combine 2 cups of the masa harina with 1 cup of water. Mix until the dough starts to form a ball. It will be thick, like Playdough. Enjoy that.
° Shape into small balls. Place each one between two sheets of wax paper or a plastic bag and flatten it into a disc. (If the dough is too wet, it won’t come off the plastic. Adjust accordingly.)
° Throw the tortilla-in-the-making onto a hot griddle. Cook for 30 seconds, then flip it. Flip it again. Take it off the griddle.
° Eat it hot!
hint: if you just can’t wait, and you want to eat the first one, then cover the dough with a moist towel to keep it wet.