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A couple abuela-approved recipes, plus a little history about the iconic griddled flatbread

Salsa Grille would not be Salsa Grille without corn tortillas. They’re the supporting starch that needs a little spotlight. Because without tortillas, we don’t have tacos, chips, nachos… the list goes on. 

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Let’s start at the beginning: Corn tortillas have been on Latin American tables for a LONG time. Tortillas and the maize from which they’re made have been the most important starches in Central and South American diets since prehistoric times. Scholars estimate that corn itself originated in southern Mexico about 10,000 years ago, and corn tortillas appeared in the Oaxaca region of Mexico as early as 1500 B.C.

If you want to take a deeper look into the food traditions in the Aztec, Maya, and Inca empires, take a look at this food timeline. It’s super cool and brings together so many accounts of the foods indigenous people ate before and during European colonization. 

Now, on to the star itself: corn tortillas are deceptively simple. Most authentic recipes only need two or three ingredients. First, you need to make tortilla dough, called “masa”. And making masa is a particular technique. The type of corn that eventually becomes masa is called “dent corn,” a variety of corn used to make cornmeal and animal feed. It has a tough texture and isn’t meant to be eaten off the cob. Since dent corn is tough, you need to prepare that corn using a specific process. 

Sounds exhausting, right? Luckily, many grocery stores sell “masa harina,” or the dried version of ground masa (sold at George’s International Market). Combine the masa harina with water, and boom, you get masa! 

Now - to the recipe! 

The recipe listed below is from Hispanic Kitchen, a community of Hispanic chefs writing up the recipes of their childhood and passion projects. This particular recipe is written by Fernanda Alvarez, a chef and Miami transplant from Mexico City. 

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups corn flour or masa harina
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ¼ cups hot water
  • 2 tablespoons pork lard (optional)

Directions:  

  1. In a large bowl, mix the corn flour/masa harina, salt, and hot water until a smooth dough forms. Add lard and keep mixing by hand until the dough is no longer sticking to your fingers. If the dough feels dry, add teaspoons of water to it until the texture resembles cookie dough.

  2. Next, cover with a dry towel and refrigerate for 10 minutes.

  3. Take the dough out of the fridge and divide into 18 equal ball-shaped portions.

  4. Flatten each ball between two sheets of plastic (or in a resealable plastic bag) using a tortilla press or a rolling pin until you get a round disc no thicker than a quarter-inch. If you want to get perfectly round tortillas, place a bowl over the flattened ball to make the perfect circle.

  5. Peel the tortilla off the plastic and heat a skillet or griddle over medium-high heat. If a drop of water sizzles immediately, your skillet is ready!

  6. Cook each tortilla for 1-2 minutes on each side, or until puffed.

  7. Transfer each tortilla to a basket or bowl lined with a clean kitchen towel and cover, so the tortillas continue to steam and soften.

  8. Serve immediately, or allow to cool before refrigerating and freezing. Enjoy!

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