Saturday, June 1, 2013


If you live you the US, especially in the southwest, then you probably know what a tortilla is.  And just in case there is any confusion, I am talking about the Mexican tortilla, not the Spanish version.  I am even willing to bet that in today's global society, that people as far as England or even Japan know what a tortilla is.  However most people don't really know what to do with a tortilla.  Well, that is what I am here for.  I have grown up all my life with tortillas and are even now an integral part of my diet.

The first thing we have to cover is what a tortilla is.  This is just in case there is anyone out there who is not familiar with this Mexican classic.  The best way to put it is that tortillas are the Mexican bread.  Every culture has their own version of bread and tortillas are that to Mexican.  To be specific tortillas are like a round flat bread made from ground corn, also known as maize, or flour.  In a way they resemble pita bread or naan.  However, tortillas are not as big as naan and not as "bumpy" as pita. 

In grocery stores here, tortillas are usually found with the other bread.  In some grocery stores, there are so many different varieties (read brands), that they have their own table or shelf.  Where you live they may be a bit harder to find and only available in specialty stores. 

Now, when you do find tortillas they will often come in plastic bags and are unrefrigerated.  I find the best way to store them is to keep them in the same plastic bag but put them in the refrigerator.  This will help them keep.  And they keep for a very long time. Usually when you see mold on them is when it is time to throw them out. 

One important thing about tortillas, especially corn tortillas, is that you want to eat them warm.  Flour tortillas can be eaten as is or even straight from the refrigerator, but trust me, there is nothing better than eating a freshly warmed tortilla.  Corn tortillas are not even edible when they are cold since they are brittle, dry and starchy.  I think this is a reason so many uninformed people don't like corn tortillas.  They just don't know what to do with them. 

So now the question is how exactly does one heat these things up?  The easiest way is to stick them in the microwave and nuke them for a one to two minutes.  But that is the lazy man's way to do it.  The best way is to get a griddle nice and hot and heat them whit as many as you can fit on the griddle.  If you don't own a griddle, then a saute pan will do.  If you have a gas stove, then any self respecting Mexican, myself included, will tell you that you don't even need a pan.

The key to heating tortillas is both patience and interaction.  You see, you can't just put the tortilla down on the hot surface and wait for it to warm up.  Chances are you are going to have a smoking, blackened piece of garbage if you do that.  The tortillas are so thin that they need to be flipped over again and again.  They ensures that your tortillas will get nice and hot and not burn.  If you are good enough then you will have attractive brown spots all over your tortillas. 

The tortillas are now on the hot griddle or whatever implement you are using to heat them.  How do you know when they are ready?  The truth of the matter is, just like many foods, the tortillas will let you know when they are ready.  Corn tortillas hold heat marvelously, so the temperature alone is a good indication.  They also become very pliable and easy to fold once they are hot.  Try folding a cold corn tortilla and it will break right in two.  A flour tortilla is a little softer and pliable when cold, but the same principle applies.  The warmer it gets, the softer it gets.  If you are lucky, the flour tortillas inflate when they are getting ready.  As the air in layers of flour gets hot and expands, the tortilla inflates, and you know you are there.

Can you over cook or heat your tortillas too much?  Sure you can, but it is not the end of the world.  Provided you did not scorch them, all it means when a tortilla is on the heat too long is that it will get a little harder than you want it.  The same heat that makes the tortillas soft makes them hard after a while.  But this is how you get such things as tostadas and tortilla chips.  You just heat your tortillas until they are crispy. 

Another important aspect of tortillas is holding them.  You want your tortillas to stay hot.  Remember how I said there is nothing better than a warm or hot tortilla?  Well, there is nothing worse than a cold tortilla, especially after it has already been heated.  It gets rigid and just looses all appeal.  But do not fret for holding tortillas is really easy.  All you really need is a clean kitchen towel.  Just fold it like you would to store it in a drawer, then store your tortillas in the middle fold.  If you have a basket that you can put the towel in, then even better.

So, what can you do with your new bounty of tortillas sitting in the refrigerator?  The possibilities are endless. You don't have to limit the range of tortillas to just tacos or enchiladas.   They range from a simple snack with a bit of cheese to an accompaniment to a nice meal.  That meal does not even have to be Mexican food.  Just think of tortillas as another type of bread and you have opened yourself up to a culinary playground.

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