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  1. Wednesday, July 11, 2018

    How to Cook Fresh Masa Tortillas

    Side view of homemade fresh masa corn tortillas

    Several years ago I had the chance to do a walking tour of the Mission District in San Francisco with Rick Bayless. It is one of the coolest things I’ve done and I learned a ton about Mexican cuisine. (Seriously, the Rick Bayless is like a college professor.) One of the topics he covered was tortillas. He took us to a tortilleria where they make their tortillas from fresh masa. These tortillas were like nothing I had every tasted before. Rick explained the difference between maseca and fresh masa and talked probably for 15-20 minutes just about tortillas. I’ve been meaning to act on what I learned since that day but only recently tracked down a fresh masa source in my neighborhood. Man, I wish I had done it sooner because these tortillas. And now that I have cooked them many times I am going to share the magic with you! Today you will learn how to cook fresh masa tortillas and as well as why they are so magical.

    A Wee Bit of Masa History

    I’ve done a lot of reading about masa, corn and tortillas over the last couple of months. The short story is that in ancient Mesoamerica, people processed corn using nixtamilization, where corn is soaked in an alkaline solution and then washed and hulled. This process makes corn a complete nutrient. Interestingly, when Europeans brought corn home they neglected to learn nixtamilization, which in turn made European diets less nutritious. Crazy, huh? Meanwhile in the Americas masa and corn tortillas were a nutritious staple in many people’s diets.

    Side view of a bowl of fresh corn masa

    Fast forward to the 1980s. Masa-based tortillas were still the norm in Mexico until a company called Maseca came along. Maseca created masa flour, basically a flour made from masa. It’s more efficient and shelf stable but does not taste nearly as good as fresh masa. In the beginning Maseca did not do well in Mexico because the taste just couldn’t compare, but in 1988 the new president of Mexico helped the company in significant ways and transformed the Mexican tortilla industry. Today it is more common for tortillas to be made from maseca, which is a crying shame. (Click here to read more about this culinary and economic transformation, it’s fascinating.)

    Top view of a bowl of fresh masaPhoto of homemade fresh masa corn tortillas

    Why Fresh Masa Is So Much Better for Tortillas

    Okay, so back to Rick Bayless. The tortilleria we visited in San Francisco used masa and you could tasted the difference. I have a hard time describing fresh masa tortillas I will try. The difference comes through both in texture and taste. Fresh masa tortillas are more like a flatbread. But as soon as I say that I regret it because they are still like tortillas, but the texture is just so much better. And the flavor is unreal. The kids and I can eat them straight up with a bit of butter (and honey!) and be happy. But of course the tortillas want to be tacos and so we make them tacos! Rick explained that one of the reasons he opened Frontera Grill in Chicago was because there were tortilla makers in that city using fresh masa and he needed a ready source of masa-based tortillas for his restaurant. The tortillas were that important to him when starting his restaurant.

    Homemade fresh masa tortilla with butter and honeyTop view of fresh masa tortillas, one with butter and honey

    How to Cook Fresh Masa Tortillas

    Rick converted me to fresh masa tortillas, but how in the world would I make them at home? You can make your own fresh masa from dried corn – the blog Mexican Please blog has a great recipe and tutorial. However this is a time-consuming process, one which I am not apt to go through on a regular basis. If you are lucky like me and live in range of many Mexican restaurants and tortillerias, chances are one of them makes and sells fresh masa. I searched the map then called places to find out if they sold fresh masa. My source here in North County San Diego is El Nopalito. They sell fresh masa for tortillas for about $1 a pound.

    Side view of tacos using homemade tortillas made from fresh masa

    If you want to make fresh masa tortillas, start digging around to see if you, too, can find a masa source. It is worth the effort to find masa! If you come up empty and feel like a fun food project, maybe give making masa from scratch a shot. But keep in mind I have never done that myself and can’t vouch for the results (although I’m sure it would be delicious)!

    top view of tacos using fresh masa tortillas

    Okay, so you have fresh masa in hand. Now what? In the recipe below I describe in detail the process for how to cook fresh masa tortillas. I’ve made them many times and finally have it down. I will write the instructions as detailed as I can but keep in mind there’s a bit of a learning curve and you just have to dive in and do it to get the hang of it. You’ll get the feel for how to form and cook the tortillas as you cook more of them. If you have questions, just drop them in the comments below! Happy tortilla cooking!

    Process for forming tortillas from fresh masaFresh masa corn tortillas cooking in the pan

    How to Cook Fresh Masa Tortillas
     
    Author:
    Serves: 12-16
    Ingredients
    • 1 pound fresh masa
    • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (if masa is unsalted)
    Instructions
    1. When working with the fresh masa, make sure it is kept covered or in a plastic bag the whole time so that it doesn't dry out while you are cooking.
    2. Form balls about 2 tablespoons in size, pressing the ball together well and rolling it between your hands to smooth the outside of the ball. I use my medium Pampered Chef scoop to measure out the balls. I also make the dough balls as I cook them, but if you want to form all the balls at once, just make sure you are storing them covered until they are ready to cook.
    3. Cut a quart-sized ziploc bag down the two side seams to form a long, rectangular piece of plastic. I use freezer bags because the thicker plastic holds up longer. I also wash the bag after each use and store it with my tortilla press.
    4. Place half of the plastic on the press, then place a masa dough ball in the center, then fold over the plastic to cover the dough. Gently but firmly press the ball into a tortilla shape. You want to get the tortilla as thin as you can but if you go too thin it will be hard to get off the plastic. It may take a few times to get the feel for it but don't fret, if you mess up just re-roll the ball and start over! If you do have a tortilla stick to the plastic, you may need to wipe the plastic down before trying again. My friend Mindy found it helpful to use a little spray oil on the plastic to prevent sticking, which could be helpful as you start working with the dough.
    5. If you don't have a tortilla press, you can use a glass casserole dish - just put the dough ball in the plastic then firmly press down on the dough. Glass is nice because you can see how thin the tortilla is getting as you press. Just be sure to press evenly down so the tortilla is the same thickness throughout.
    6. Preheat a large frying pan (I use non-stick, but a well-seasoned cast iron skillet should work, too) over medium-high heat. Let it preheat for a good five minutes before you start cooking the tortillas. On my stove medium-high works, but your stove may be a little different. You want the pan quite hot and you'll get a feel for it after you try it the first few times.
    7. Once the pan is hot, place your formed tortilla in the pan and let it cook for about 30 seconds then flip it over. If it is sticking to the pan that means it needs to cook a little longer. I like to do this first flip as early as possible so that the top uncooked side doesn't get too dried out before it finally gets a chance to start cooking on the griddle. After the first flip, let the tortilla cook for a minute or two, flip it back to the original side and cook for another minute or two. The tortilla will looked "cooked" when it's done - non-gummy, dry and potentially browned in spots. It's okay if the tortilla puffs up with air! I use a pancake flipper to flip the tortillas.
    8. Serve immediately. If you can't serve immediately, store in a tortilla warmer. As they sit they will get less crispy and a bit gummy, the best way to reheat is right on the pan. I generally make the tortillas as everyone is eating, but my family is also fine with tortillas that have been sitting in the tortilla warmer for a few minutes. I can cook 3 tortillas at a time on my 12-inch pan, so the cooking goes quickly.

     

    OTHER RECIPES YOU MAY LIKE:

    EQUIPMENT I USED TO MAKE THIS RECIPE:


  2. Friday, April 3, 2009

    Aaron and Lindsay’s Chicken Tortilla Soup Extravaganza

    There are a few people in my life who are the source of some of my most favorite recipes and tips. My sister-in-law Cora definitely tops the list, but so does my friend Lindsay. Lindsay used to be my neighbor…those were the good old days. She’d call and say, “I’m making this awesome recipe” and I’d go over with my camera, take pictures, eat her food and get awesome recipes. Alas she lives in Seattle now, but I still use her recipes regularly. One of my most favorite recipes of all time comes from Lindsay and her husband Aaron (one of the few male commenters here on the blog!): Aaron and Lindsay’s Chicken Tortilla Soup Extravaganza!

    One of my favorite dinners, Chicken Tortilla Soup

    Lindsay and Aaron named the soup. The name fits perfectly. This tortilla soup is an extravaganza, filled with all kinds of wonderful ingredients that go so well together. Chicken tortilla soup is one of my favorite dinners…as long as I’m making it, thanks to Lindsay. (P.S. I think we should add the word “extravaganza” to all recipes. It makes life more festive!)

    Aaron and Lindsay's Chicken Tortilla Soup Extravaganza!

    This recipe is easy to throw together and one that I always make on weeknights. The leftovers are fantastic. Also, the toppings are key! Don’t skimp on the toppings. If you want truly amazing chicken tortilla soup, you gotta make sure you fill the bowl with all of the good stuff. Hence the “extravaganza.”

    Recipe for Chicken Tortilla Soup from This Week for Dinner

    Please note: Lindsay fries up her own tortilla strips. Because she’s fancy like that. I am not fancy and always either buy tortilla strip salad toppers in the produce section or just break up tortilla chips on top. It tastes mighty fine even with that shortcut. Promise.

    Homemade fried tortilla strips for Chicken Tortilla Soup

    Have fun making and eating this soup. And be sure to bookmark the recipe, I promise you’ll be back for more.

    Aaron and Lindsay’s Chicken Tortilla Soup Extravaganza
     
    A little spicy and a lot delicious!
    Author:
    Recipe type: Main Dishes, Soup
    Cuisine: Mexican
    Ingredients
    • FOR THE SOUP:
    • 1 yellow onion, finely chopped (I usually just use half of an onion)
    • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 4 cloves garlic, minced (or pushed through a garlic press)
    • 2 green onions, chopped
    • A few shakes of cayenne pepper
    • ½ - 1 tablespoon chili powder (depending on your spice level desires)
    • 1 teaspoon or so of ground cumin
    • 8 cups chicken broth
    • 2-3 tomatoes or 1 pint cherry tomatoes, chopped
    • Half of a bag of frozen corn
    • 1 large chicken breast
    • 1 can black beans, drained & rinsed
    • 2-3 limes
    • 2 large handfuls cilantro, chopped
    • FOR TORTILLA STRIPS:
    • 4-5 corn tortillas, cut into strips
    • A few swigs of canola/vegetable oil or cooking spray
    • TOPPINGS:
    • Diced avocado
    • Shredded cheddar or jack cheese
    • Sour cream
    • Lime slices
    • Chopped cilantro
    • Tortilla strips or tortilla chips broken up
    Instructions
    1. TO MAKE THE SOUP:
    2. In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat for a few minutes. Add chopped onion and cook until onions soften and become translucent, 3-5 minutes or so.
    3. Add garlic, green onions, cayenne pepper, chili powder and cumin. Sauté until fragrant, 1-2 minutes.
    4. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower heat to medium low (or the lowest heat that maintains a simmer). Add tomatoes, corn and black beans and simmer for 5-10 minutes.
    5. The very best way to prepare the chicken is to sprinkle the raw chicken breast with some cayenne pepper, chili powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper and then grill the chicken. However, you can cook the chicken whatever way works for you. Once chicken is cooked, chop or shred the chicken. If you cooked the chicken another way besides seasoning and then grilling, go ahead and sprinkle those same spices over the cooked chicken to add a bit of flavor.
    6. Add the prepared chicken, juice from one of the limes and one handful of the chopped cilantro to the soup. Heat through for a few minutes and then serve!
    7. TO MAKE TORTILLA STRIPS (OPTIONAL):
    8. Heat canola or vegetable oil in a large fry pan over medium-high heat. Alternatively you can spry the pan with cooking spray. Add tortilla strips to pan and cook until crisp, turning strips every few minutes. Once browned and crisp remove from heat and sprinkle with salt.
    9. THE FINAL PRODUCT:
    10. Serve soup garnished with avocado, cheese, sour cream, fresh lime and cilantro, and tortilla strips.

    OTHER RECIPES YOU MAY LIKE:

    EQUIPMENT I USED TO MAKE THIS RECIPE:


  3. Wednesday, January 31, 2007

    Kitchen Sink Quesadillas

    Click here to see a dedicated blog post about this recipe, with adaptations and notes on the recipe provided.

    Kitchen Sink Quesadillas
     
    From: Real Simple magazine These are really good, and you can cook all your quesadillas at once, which is nice
    Author:
    Recipe type: Main Dish
    Cuisine: Mexican
    Serves: 4
    Ingredients
    • 1 15.5-ounce can black beans, drained
    • 1 11-ounce can corn kernels, drained
    • ¾ cup salsa, drained
    • 1 8-count package large flour tortillas
    • 1½ cups (6 ounces) shredded Cheddar or Monterey Jack
    • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
    • ⅓ cup fresh cilantro leaves
    • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
    • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
    • Juice of 1 to 2 limes
    • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    • 1 head romaine lettuce, sliced 1 inch thick
    Instructions
    1. Heat oven to 400° F. In a medium bowl, combine the beans, corn, and salsa.
    2. Place 4 tortillas on a parchment- or foil-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with half the cheese. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the black bean mixture on top of the cheese. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and sandwich with the remaining tortillas. Bake until the cheese has melted, 5 to 7 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the onion, cilantro, salt, pepper, lime juice, and oil. Add the lettuce and toss.
    3. Transfer the quesadillas to a cutting board. Cut each into 6 wedges. Serve with the salad.

     


  4. Creamy Chicken Enchiladas

    Creamy Chicken Enchiladas
     
    These are delectable!
    Author:
    Recipe type: Main Dish, Chicken
    Cuisine: Mexican
    Ingredients
    • 2 cups chicken, cooked & shredded
    • 2 tablespoon olive oil
    • 1 clove garlic crushed
    • 8 oz tomato sauce
    • ¼ teaspoon salt
    • 3 cup heavy cream
    • 5 bouillon cubes – chicken
    • ⅓ cup olive oil
    • 12-18 tortillas (I usually end up making 8 enchiladas in a 9×13 dish – I believe the medium sized tortillas, about 8-9”³ in diameter)
    • 1½ cups monterey jack grated cheese
    • 1 large onion
    • ¼ teaspoon sugar
    Instructions
    1. Sautee onion in 2 T oil until translucent. Stir in garlic, tomato sauce, salt, sugar and chicken. Cover and simmer 5 mins. In a large saucepan heat cream. Dissolve bouillon in cream – don’t heat too hot. Set aside. In a small skillet heat ~1/3 C of oil and dip each tortilla in oil turning once for a few seconds to soften – drain on paper towl. Dip tortilla in cream mixture – place on flat surface – put 3 T chicken mixture and roll up. Place rolled tortilla seam side down in 9X13 baking dish. Pour any remaining sauce over enchiladas. Cover with grated cheese. Bake 350 25-30 mins.

    creamy chicken enchiladas web