Tortilla-embraced carnitas. Photo by Christine Barbour


One of my favorite things to eat is a fresh, warm corn tortilla. The steamy essence of corniness embraces whatever you wrap up in it, from fresh, spicy guacamole to slabs of freshly fried fish with a tangle of cabbage to chunky pork carnitas braised in milk and served with a handful of cilantro and a squirt of lime.

The fillings are important, no doubt about it, but too often we overlook the tortilla itself, spending hours perfecting whatever we intend to put inside but then buying the prefab kind from the supermarket.

Here’s a weird thing about store-bought corn tortillas. You can buy them, unrefrigerated, at the supermarket. And once you buy them and put them in the refrigerator? They never, ever seem to go bad. I suppose you could keep them so long that they finally give up the ghost, but I’ve never managed it. And we are talking months, people. Many months.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to eat a food that doesn’t have the good sense to eventually rot. Like those outtakes in Super Size Me, where the guy put a Big Mac under glass and it never grew mold? Gross.

But I digress. If you have ever eaten a freshly made, hot-off-the-griddle corn tortilla, you will know that the ability to decay is only the least of its attractions. Corny and fragrant, fresh tortillas are to the cardboard store-bought kind what homemade whole-grain bread is to Wonder.

And the odd thing is, they have to be one of the easiest things on the planet to make yourself. Masa harina (corn flour treated with lime), water, salt, and a pinch of baking soda. That’s it. It helps to have a tortilla press, too—not that you couldn’t make the tortillas without one, but it just makes it even easier than pie.

Here’s what you do: Mix 2 cups masa with a pinch of salt and another pinch of baking powder (no more than 1/4 tsp). The salt and baking powder are optional but we’ve had better results with them. Stir in 1 1/2 cups warm water to make a dryish dough. If it is too crumbly, add a splash of water; if too wet, sprinkle in more masa. Some say it should look like Play-Doh, which is pretty accurate, if not totally appetizing. Let the dough rest for 10-15 minutes, and start heating a well-seasoned cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Roll a golf-ball-size piece of dough into a ball. Using a tortilla press lined with plastic wrap or a baggie, press the ball into a circle and transfer to the skillet. Cook until the edges curl a bit and the tortilla is just slightly puffed. There will be a bit of charring on the edges, which is good. Flip and continue cooking on the other side until toasted. As each tortilla cooks, prepare the next in the press so it is ready to go. Hold in a tortilla warmer or under a clean towel while you finish cooking. Stuff with the filling of your choice and enjoy.

But be sure to eat them all up. These babies will go stale if you don’t.

To read more by Christine Barbour, visit her blog, My Plate or Yours?