Vespa's recipes have appeared in "Midwest Living" and "Taste of Home." She belongs to Cook's Recipe Testers for "Cook's Illustrated."
Corn Tortillas: A Great Bread for Gluten-Free Diets
Tacos, huevos rancheros, enchiladas, tostadas: Who doesn't love them? Since masa harina isn’t available in this corner of the world, I imagined manually grinding the corn, laboriously forming a masa, hand-rolling the tortillas and finally toasting them on a griddle. What a pain in the back—literally!
Then I found a corn tortilla recipe by Alton Brown. Unlike commercially made tortillas, these rustic corn tortillas are a little coarser in texture and bursting with corn flavor. If you have a food processor or blender, you'll find they're faster and easier than flour tortillas since a tortilla press does all the work for you. Then it’s a matter of cooking them on a skillet or griddle, and voila: handmade corn tortillas tastier than anything you can purchase at a grocery store or elaborate with masa harina, and much more nutritious than flour tortillas.
Benefits of Corn Tortillas
Corn tortillas are a great addition to a gluten-free diet. Since many commercial brands contain gluten, making them at home is the safest option. Both low in fat and high in fiber, corn tortillas also contain potassium, iron and B vitamins. Blue corn tortillas have 20% more protein than those made of white or yellow corn. All corn tortillas are chock full of calcium thanks to the slaked lime used to soften the corn. In areas of the world where corn tortillas are consumed daily, they add a significant amount of calcium to the diet.
And the best news of all? You only need two main ingredients: dried corn and slaked lime. Below you will find information on purchasing these simple ingredients and the necessary equipment.
Where Can I Find Dried Corn?
You’ll need dried field corn, not sweet corn. Depending on where you live, it may also be called hominy, grain corn, dent corn, maize, maíz posole or maíz mote. In the United States, field corn is not grown for human consumption, although twice as much field corn is grown than any other single grain. Used as livestock fodder or to make grain alcohol, it is also ground for breakfast cereals, cornmeal or grits. In Mexico it is an ingredients in pozole and tamales.
To make the tortillas, dried corn is heated and soaked overnight in slaked lime, which softens it enough to be ground. At this point, the corn is called Nixtamal.
What Is Slaked Lime?
Slaked lime or calcium hydroxide [Ca(OH)2], is used in the United States to make mortar. Once it is mixed with sand and water, the mortar is sandwiched between bricks. Although strongly alkaline, it is not as caustic as quicklime. It is also sometimes called "pickling lime." In many Spanish-speaking countries slaked lime is called cal. In Peru, cal is added to soup made with quinoa and given to woman for its high calcium content.
The Tortilla Press
Once you have found the dried corn and slaked lime, you’ll need a tortilla press. Tortilla presses are readily available in the United States, won’t take up much cabinet space in your kitchen and are inexpensive. I own this tortilla press, which is both durable and easy to use.
You can find information on Google if you'd like to fabricate your own wooden tortilla press.
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14 to 18 corn tortillas
- 2 cups dried corn kernels
- 6 cups water
- 2 tablespoons slaked lime (or cal)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 to 6 tablespoons water
- Combine corn, water and slaked lime in a medium saucepan over low heat.
- Bring slowly to a simmer, allowing about 30 minutes. Immediately turn off heat and cover.
- Soak corn overnight at room temperature.
- Next day: Pour corn into a colander and rinse thoroughly with plenty of running water for several minutes, or until water runs clear. Rub corn between your palms as you rinse, removing some of the husks.
- Place corn and salt into a food processor bowl or blender container.
- Pulse the blender or food processor to grind corn as finely as possible, stopping occasionally to scrape down the bowl.
- Add 6 tablespoons of water, one tablespoon at a time, as you continue to pulse the corn.
- Pour ground corn into a bowl and mix with your hands until it forms a ball of dough. If it’s still too dry, add a little more water so the dough comes together.
- Knead the dough for several minutes with the heels of your hands.
- Pinch off a portion of dough and roll between your palms to form a small ball. Keep main ball of dough covered.
- Place ball in the center of tortilla press which has been covered with plastic bags.
- Press the tortilla, rotating it several times to press evenly.
- Peel tortilla from plastic bags and place on a very hot (400°F) griddle or skillet. If you don’t have a griddle, I recommend using two skillets to speed up the process.
- Brown tortilla, about 30 seconds on each side.
- Keep tortillas warm in a towel-lined basket.
One corn tortilla boasts a whopping 5% calcium and 2% iron!
- This recipe makes rustic tortillas with hearty corn flavor. They won't be as finely textured as corn tortillas made with masa harina.
Soaking and Grinding the Corn
- Soak corn for at least 8 hours or overnight. I’ve soaked corn for as little as 6 hours, but you won’t be able to grind it finely enough for the best result.
- After soaking corn, rinse it thoroughly to remove the bitter lime.
- You can’t overgrind the corn. Grind as finely as possible both before and after adding water.
Making the Dough
- Add only the minimum amount of water suggested then pour the dough into a mixing bowl. Add more water, if necessary, so the dough just forms a ball.
- If the dough is too wet, it will stick to the plastic bags. If the dough is too dry, the tortilla edges will crack when you cook them.
- If you’ve added too much water, allow the dough to rest on the counter. Check the dough every 15 minutes and knead it several times, until it’s dry enough to manage.
Using the Press
- Plastic wrap or plastic bags will keep the tortillas from sticking to the press.
- Rotate the tortilla and press it several times. With practice, you’ll learn how thick/thin to press the tortilla so it easily peels from the plastic bags.
- Don’t get discouraged if your first few tries yield less-than-perfect tortillas. Just spread them with a little salted butter and enjoy the fresh, nutty deliciousness as you press out the rest. No one will be the wiser!
Grilling the Tortillas
- Heat the griddle until very hot. Brown tortillas on both sides until edges are dry.
- Keep tortillas warm in a towel-lined basket.
Authentic Mexican Meal and Snack Ideas
Sweet and Smoky Chicken Mole Tacos
Fill warm tortillas with seasoned ground beef, beef tongue, chicken or pork. Serve with a sprinkling of queso fresco, chopped onion, cilantro and mole sauce.
Quick Stacked Enchiladas
Choose ground beef or shredded chicken. Combine with shredded cheese and enchilada sauce. Serves 6.
- Oil a 9x13-inch rectangular baking dish.
- Line the baking dish with corn tortillas, overlapping them a little if necessary.
- Spread the meat/cheese/enchilada sauce mixture over the tortillas.
- Cover with another layer of corn tortillas.
- Pour more sauce over the tortillas and sprinkle with shredded cheese.
- Place in 350°F oven for 30 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and melted.
Huevos Rancheros for Two
- Place 4 warm tortillas on a plate.
- Top with a fried egg and drizzle with enchilada sauce, mole or salsa.
- Finish with a sprinkling of grated cheese and chopped cilantro. I recommend either pepper jack or queso fresco.
- Heat 2 inches of oil in a skillet to 400°F.
- Fry tortillas until crispy and golden brown, about a minute on each side. Drain on paper towels.
- Top with seasoned ground beef or shredded chicken, chopped lettuce and tomatoes, salsa and grated cheese.
- 3 ounces chorizo or other spicy pork sausage, removed from casings
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
- 1/2 to 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
- 1/2 pound mozzarella or Monterey Jack cheese, grated
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
- In a medium skillet over medium heat, cook sausage until golden, about 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, leaving any rendered fat in the pan.
- Stir in olive oil, jalapeño and red pepper. Cook for 1 minute.
- Add cheese, and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly, until cheese melts.
- Garnish with cilantro and chorizo. Spread hot cheese mixture on corn tortillas.
Lime-Cilantro Butter (From The New Best Recipe)
- 5 tablespoons butter, unsalted
- 1 1/2 teaspoons grated lime zest
- 1 tablespoon minced cilantro leaves
- Pinch of cayenne, optional
Beat ingredients until light and fluffy. Spread on warm corn tortillas and enjoy!
Fried Taco Shells
- Into a medium saucepan, pour cooking oil with a smoke point high enough for frying. Make sure the oil is deep enough to submerge a taco shell.
- Heat oil over medium-high heat until it reaches 350 to 400°F.
- Using two tablespoons, submerge the tortilla and bend it into a taco shape.
- Hold the tortilla in place until crispy, about one minute.
- Drain taco shells on paper towels.
Not-So-Authentic Snack Ideas
- Gluten-free cinnamon "toast": Spread tortilla with butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Toast under broiler until bubbly.
- Use tortillas as roll-ups for sandwich filling and spreads, such as cream cheese and ham.
- Cut tortillas into 4 to 6 wedges, spray wedges with oil or cooking spray, sprinkle with salt and bake at 400°F for 10 minutes, flipping once, for low-calorie tortilla chips.
- Grill fish or shrimp to make Baja tacos.
- Tortillas make a great "crust" for gluten-free pizza.