Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Me gusta homemade tortillas.

My breadmaker hasn't gotten any action since I gave up gluten in September. Without wheat, there's been no crusty peasant bread for me. But no need to mope: in many cultures, wheat is rare or occasional. For lots of people, Our Daily Bread means a bowl of rice noodles or a corn tortilla. Maybe, instead of pining for baguettes, it's time to think outside the European culinary tradition.

Enter my new tortilla press.

Feliz Navidad to me. Making tortillas provides all the tactile joy and warming aromas of baking bread, with none of the waiting or kneading.

The first step to making your own tortillas is mixing masa harina with water. I used Maseca; they don't mill wheat, so there's no risk of cross-contamination. Plus, there are handy instructions on the bag.

Now you get to roll the dough in your hands like play-doh, forming golf ball-sized spheres.

Then place the balls of dough on the press and squash the living daylights out of them (this is the truly fun part). Plastic on either side of the tortilla keeps the press clean and makes moving the tortilla easy.

The tortillas get cooked over medium-high heat for 50-60 seconds per side. A tortilla warmer keeps them soft until you're ready to eat. Celiac disease is a wonderful excuse to buy yourself specialized tortilla equipment. It's not expensive—it'll pay for itself in four or five loaves of gluey rice bread—and it practically turns your kitchen into a taquería. My first homemade tortillas were heartier and fresher than any I've bought in a store. I don't think I'll ever go back.

When it came time to serve these, with black beans, rice, tomatoes, lettuce, sautéed peppers, and guacamole, I wasn't sure whether to call them fajitas or soft tacos. Both consist of warm tortillas folded around fillings, so what's the difference? My Mexican culinary vocabulary is limited—I am from Maine, the whitest, oldest, and most capsaicin-phobic state in the union. I remember being fond, in junior high, of McDonald's chicken fajitas. There was no Taco Bell.

It wasn't until college that I discovered a world beyond the Old El Paso taco kit (don't get me wrong, that ground beef seasoning packet is delicious, but it's neither Mexican nor food). Then I married someone from southern California, and received an education in enchiladas, empanadas, chilies rellenos, and tamales. For a time we lived above a restaurant called Taco Taco, and it became our second home.

I guess it doesn't matter what you call this meal. It was fresh and filling, and while I was cooking and eating it, I didn't miss wheat at all. I can feel a Mexican binge coming on; after months of gentle rice and mild soup, it's time revel in flavor and a style of bread that doesn't require alteration to be safe and delicious.

A final note: I'm so pleased to have avocados back in my life. For years, I thought I was allergic, because every time I ate them I got sick. Now I'm eating guacamole with gusto, and realizing it was flour tortillas that made me ill. Welcome back, you fatty fruit. I used this recipe, but next time I'll wing it with some lime juice, cilantro, onion, tomato, and salt.

¡Hasta Luego!


  1. Oooh, they look awesome! I've been dying for a tortilla press!

  2. Wow! That tortilla press looks and sounds fantastic! I'm so happy for you that you didn't miss wheat at all and you can now have avocados, Yay!

  3. YAY! Avocados are my FAVORITE thing, I usually eat at least one a day. I'm so glad you get to have them back in your life. And there is nothing more scrumptious than homemade tortillas. These look absolutely stunning!

  4. Me gusta this too! A lot. You are so lucky to have a tortilla press.Yay for homemade tortillas!

  5. Well, as an earlier post of your was titled, "When Life Gives You Lemons..." :-) Great job on making "lemonade" out of having to give up gluten and bread baking! Your tortilla press is very fun, and your resulting meal a veritable fiesta! I can almost smell and taste it from here! My mom rarely made Mexican food, but then I lived in New Mexico and Texas for a few years and married a Texan who never met a jalapeño he didn't like. So I got educated too, and Mexican food is a big part of our repertoire. We've been talking about making our own tortillas for a while, and you have inspired us further. (Plus, any excuse for a new kitchen gadget, that's my motto!) ;-) ¡Me gustan también las tortillas, y su blog! :-)

  6. Good for you Mary! And there are many other ways to use Maseca for making different things that go very well also with your food. For example, instead of a sandwich, you can prepare a sope or a gordita. Check out my website, you may find it useful!

    Happy new year.

  7. Yum, I love homemade tortillas! I'm a hobo though and just use a rolling pin :)

  8. Gorgeous!! I might have to look into one of those things. I bet they're so much better than store bought tortillas. And YES to guacamole!

  9. yesterday at the grocery store, my husband and i were just talking about how unbelievably long and complicated and scary the list of ingredients is on many pre-packaged flour tortillas. your homemade tortillas look so easy! and delicious! and simple! we are definitely going to have to try this using a rolling pin...hobo style.

  10. Oh my goodness. I'm sooooo jealous of your tortillas!


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