Tortillas from the ground up! I’ve always been intrigued by how things are made. I figure if someone can do it, so can I…with limitations, of course. So starting from the source this summer I followed the pathway to learn how to make fresh corn tortillas. I found Oaxacan Green corn in Johnny’s Seed Catalog. With the Galena Community Garden as my experimental plot, I planted it along with Trail of Tears black beansand squash, the three sisters garden plan from the native Americans. I was a bit worried that it wouldn’t mature in time for our short season climate, but it did great …growing very tall and providing structure for the beans to climb on. I only had about a dozen plants for my small space and got about eight full ears of corn. The raccoons got a few too. It was enough to experiment with and provide some for the kids cooking class we had in the garden.
After picking, I had to get the corn off the cobs. I found the easiest way was to break the ear in half and then the kernels would fall off in succession, rubbing along the rows. I rinsed them and got the lime solution boiling. Drop in the corn and simmer for 15 minutes. Then I turned off the burner, covered the pot and let it sit overnight. Lots of rinsing and rubbing the kernels together with my hands released the outer coating. Now it was ready to grind. A food processor works here also. I love tools! I found a corn grinder, and also the lime, at Gourmet Sleuth.
I ground the corn and added a bit of water to make a pliable dough. Now it’s called masa. Then the dough was rolled into balls and pressed in the tortilla press. Cooked on a comal for a few seconds on both sides and they were ready! Wow…I was pretty excited that they came out so well. The masa can also be made into tamales with the addition of lard and more water or stock…another blog to come.
Soaking the corn in the alkaline solution has a nutritional effect on the corn. The process, called nixtamalization, converts the niacin in the corn to be absorbable in the body. This was very important to populations who were depending on corn for their main sustenance.
I often read that women in many countries spend up to 75 percent of their work day procuring and preparing the food for their families. I can see how this is, starting from the garden to the processing and preparing the tortillas. I certainly have a much greater appreciation for this humble flatbread. Next year wheat???
Fresh Masa Tortillas
prep time: 1 hour (after the corn is shelled) plus overnight soaking…4 months from planting the seed
12 ounces dried corn
1 tablespoon “cal” slaked lime
Place the corn in a colander and rinse well with cold water. Place 4 cups water in a large non-reactive pot. Place over high heat and add the lime, stirring until dissolved. Bring to a boil. Add the corn. Remove any kernels that float to the top. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover and let soak overnight.
Strain the corn in a large colander. Rinse under cold water, rubbing off the husk. Keep working with it until the corn is all clean, removing all the husks from the kernels.
Grind to a fine paste and add water as necessary to make a dough, using a grain grinder or food processor.
Preheat a griddle to medium hot.
Divide into 12 –16 balls. Place a square of plastic on the base of the tortilla press. Flatten a ball and place in the center. Cover with another piece of plastic and press the dough until it forms a tortilla about 5 or 6 inches. Peel off the top sheet of plastic and flip the tortilla over onto your hand. Peel off the second sheet of plastic and lay the tortilla onto your griddle. Let it sit for about 15 seconds. Flip bake the other side for about 30 to 45 seconds, until specked with brown spots. Flip again and bake an additional 30 seconds. It should balloon on the second flip. Stack the tortillas in a cloth-lined basket to steam together.