WHAT IS A TORTILLA?
This Spanish version of a French crepe is made from either corn or wheat flour. Like an Indian chapati, it’s unleavened and was invented long before Europeans arrived. Made in Mexico since 10,000 B.C. it was a food served to both peasants and kings. Back then, other vegetables like squash were used in addition to corn to make flour. Sadly the tortillas available today are industrially made and about as exciting as a Frisbee. Hand-made tortillas use inedible corn that is soaked in an alkaline bath for half a day. After prolonged immersion, this ingredient is now both more digestible (a.k.a. nutritious) and easier to mill. Much like other breads, the tortilla is a delivery system for a mix of other savory ingredients and sauces.
WHERE ARE THE BEST TORTILLAS MADE?
The secret to making this Mexican staple great is to use the best heirloom corn possible and to make it fresh. While there are a few dozen restaurants in the U.S.A. that spend the money to import Mexican heirloom corn, Seattle’s Cantina Leña is at the top of the list! Ground fresh 8 am every day, their tortillas are delicious.
WHAT KIND OF FLOUR AND STARTER SHOULD I USE?
No starter is needed and ground corn from any, non-boring varietal will work.
HOW SHOULD TORTILLAS BE STORED?
Like most bread you can wrap them up and freeze them or store them at room temperature for about a week. Some people refrigerate them but the condensation can cause mold if you’re not careful.
IS MEXICO IN THE MIDST OF A TORTILLA CRISIS?
In the last few decades Mexican consumption of the tortilla has dropped by over 1/3. And half of the ones eaten today are the cheap and flavorless industrially-produced variety. Groups like the “Alliance for Our Tortillas” are fighting back against this trend. But sadly the reality is that a delicious, fresh, hand-made tortilla is in many ways antithetical to the cheap and convenient food demanded by our industrialized societies.