Taco night, anyone?

By Maddy Sweitzer-Lammé
April 27, 2020
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If your only knowledge of tortillas is of the big stacks you buy wrapped in plastic at the supermarket, you’re in for a surprise. Making tortillas at home is easier than you think, and makes the perfect rainy day activity for cooped-up kids and grownups.

Tortillas start with a dough made from regular old tap water and masa harina, a corn flour made from kernels that have been nixtamalized—soaked in an alkaline solution that softens them and makes them easier to digest. Then, those softened kernels are ground into a paste which is dried and sold as masa harina. All you have to do is add hot water to the dried corn to rehydrate—the resulting dough is similar to clay, and it’s quite easy to work with.

The exact amount of water and flour you need varies depending on the brand, though a general ratio to go by is about 1 1/2 cups water for every 2 cups masa. The dough should be moist enough to come together with ease, but not so moist that it sticks to your hands. (For more detail on how to form your masa dough, reference our Fresh Corn Tortillas recipe.)The most common masa flour is Maseca, which is available at many grocery stores and online. You can also look for it from brands like Bob’s Red Mill and Quaker, which make their own versions. If you’re interested in a more heirloom product (think organic, non-GMO) check out the LA-based company Masienda, which started out selling masa harina made from Mexican heirloom corn varieties to chefs, but now offers two pound bags for just $7 to anyone who wants it. You’ll notice a nuttier, lightly sweet flavor to tortillas made from this flour.

Perfect tortillas take practice—experts covet a tortilla that puffs up as it cooks, browning a little and becoming light and fluffy, but even an inexpertly formed tortilla will taste better than anything you’ll buy at the grocery store. Once the dough is made, assemble your tortilla-makers around the counter and form it into evenly-sized balls, about the size of a golf ball—or about one and a half ounces, if you’re feeling more exact. Then, use damp hands to smack and press them into thin disks. Youtube is full of videos of seasoned tortilla-makers using their hands to form the little balls into thin rounds, and many also use a tortilla press, which is helpful but not at all necessary. If the hand shaping becomes tedious, cover the ball in 2 pieces of plastic wrap and use a rolling pin to flatten the tortilla. Cook them quickly in a dry cast iron skillet over medium heat, flipping often until they’re cooked through, about two minutes.

Enjoy your tortillas with almost anything—top the hot ones with a little cheese and hot sauce and enjoy them that way. Taco night is an obvious choice. Stuff them with a little spinach and ricotta and pan-fry them until crisp for a delicious and unexpected quesadilla. Enjoy leftover tortillas fried or baked until crispy and topped as you please for tostadas, or sliced into wedges to make tortilla chips. The limits are endless, as are, hopefully, the tortillas.