Tortillas de maíz hechas a mano – Homemade corn tortillas

Today I am posting my 100th blog entry! I wanted to make it special. I am posting my handmade tortillas because one of my first recipes was I’ve perfected this soup by popping torn quesadillas made with Monterey jack cheese on homemade tortillas into the broth.

I am fortunate to work in the Fruitvale section of East Oakland, near La Finca tortilleria which sells both their own tortillas and the fresh masa (dough). I’ve bought their tortillas for years, because I love to take home a warm package and because they are preservative-free. I recently dug out my tortilla press and began making my own tortillas from their fresh masa. This is stone-ground nixtamal, corn soaked in a lime mixture. Much better than the dry masa harina you mix with water, because the tortillas stay fresh longer.

The trick was to make the tortillas not stick to the pan or come out misshapen. The key is to have the comal hot enough and to handle the tortilla carefully so it doesn’t bunch up. My friend and colleague Maria  helped me perfect my tortillas and showed me how to make them puffy by pressing on them lightly after turning.

Here’s the drill: Heat a comal or heavy frying pan. Spread a long piece of plastic wrap over the inside of the tortilla press. Roll a golf-ball size piece of masa into a ball and place it in the middle of the bottom press.

Flatten it a little bit with your hand, then close the press and press the handle down. Don’t press so hard that the tortilla is too thin and squishes out beyond the edges. When you open the press, the masa should make a perfect circle.

Carefully peel one piece of the plastic off the tortilla. Holding the loose plastic over your hand, flip the tortilla on your hand.

Then carefully pull off the other side of the plastic. Flip the tortilla back on  your bare hand.

Slide the tortilla on the hot comal so that it lies flat on the comal. I usually can fit about 3 tortillas on my comal.

Heat the tortilla until the sides begin to dry out and start to curl up slightly. (Don’t turn them too soon or they will crumple and stick.)

You should be able to flip them with your hand, although you can use a spatula if you wish. If the comal is hot enough, they won’t stick. Heat the other side for half as long. Both sides should be lightly toasted. Flip it one more time and press your fingertips on them several times.

This somehow makes them puff up, which looks really cool.

Tonight we had tacos de Tinga de Pollo with homemade tortillas.

I love quesadillas with grated or sliced cheese on the puffy tortillas.

Tortilla Soup, bién rica

On a long-ago vacation in Cozumel, Mexico, we fell in love with this soup: fragrant with lime, cilantro, comino and oregano, with just enough heat from chile powder and salsa de casera, and topped with crunchy tortillas or chips.

You could make a vegan version of this recipe by using vegetable broth and either omitting the chicken or substituting beans or some sort of fake chicken.

I buy preservative-free tortillas made in East Oakland: La Finca or La Mexicana,  in Mexican markets in the East Bay,  or at La Palma in San Francisco. Or make my own from fresh masa from La Finca.

I borrowed some of Jacqueline Higuera McMahan’s  method of adding roasted tomatoes from her recipe for tortilla soup:  http://www.sfgate.com/food/southtonorth/article/Soup-preserves-the-last-of-the-year-s-tomatoes-4888977.php Although it adds an extra step, the roasted tomatoes give the soup a rich and satisfying flavor and texture. You can roast them ahead of time. If you prefer, substitute 1 cup of canned tomato puree, although it won’t be quite the same.

tortilla soup ingredients

Serves 3 for dinner with warm tortillas on the side

1 ½ quarts (6 cups) homemade chicken broth.  See   (ok, buy it boxed or canned  it you don’t have homemade.)

5 Roma tomatoes

1/2 purple onion

3 cloves garlic

olive oil spray

1 tsp. cumin (comino in Spanish)

salt to taste

2-3 Tb. (to taste) salsa, such as Herdez salsa casera

1 – 2 tsp ancho chile powder (to taste)

½ chicken breast chopped. tinga de pollo is an excellent addition and will add extra flavor

Or use leftover roast chicken, or you can cook raw breast in the soup.

1 cup cooked rice

several sprigs of fresh cilantro for each bowl

3 sprigs fresh oregano, minced. (You can substitute 3 tsp dried oregano)

1-2 Tb queso cotija, queso fresco or Monterey Jack cheese for each bowl

1 avocado sliced

1 lime

3 corn tortillas

Preheat oven to 300′ Halve tomatoes and place cut side up on a foil-lined flat casserole dish, with the onion in the center and the garlic cloves placed between the tomatoes. Spray with olive oil spray and bake for 1 hour. Remove the stems and skins from tomatoes and onion, then pulse them in a food processor. You can do this step ahead of time.

Heat broth to boil, add tomatoes and cumin. Add chili powder,  salsa and salt to broth to taste. If using raw chicken breast add it at this point, and cook on medium for 10 minutes.

Heat tortillas on a comal or heavy frying pan until crispy, then break into pieces. You can use packaged tortilla chips instead.

tortilla on comal

Add cooked rice. If using cooked breast, put in the soup at the last minute so as not to lose the flavor.

Pour soup into bowls. Add oregano, cilantro and lime juice as desired, and stir. Crumble cheese on top and add avocado slices and tortilla pieces or chips. ¡Disfrùtela! Continue reading