Food for Thought: Easy Homemade Tortillas

Aug 30, 2017

"Why would you make your own tortillas when they're available in every store?" I asked Nancy Leson.

"Because I can. Because it's fun.  And it's easy!"  And, she claims, better than store-bought.  Read on for Nancy's tortillas, the book they rode in and actual live footage of La Leson wielding her tortilla press.

The way Nance explained it, it really does sound pretty easy.  You can find an inexpensive tortilla press at any Mexican grocery or order one here. 

The Imusa aluminum tortilla press.
Credit Nancy Leson

Here's the recipe from Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales by Roberto Santibañez.

Corn tortillas (Torillas de Maiz)

(Makes 24 tortillas)

3 cups masa harina

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 1/2 cups warm water (about 115 degrees), plus more as needed

Make the dough: Stir together the tortilla flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the water and mix with your hands until the mixture comes together, then knead it for a minute with your palm to form a smooth dough. It should feel just slightly sticky and leave a light film on your hands. If it doesn’t, very gradually knead in more water until it does. Put the dough back in the bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, and let it sit for 5 minutes or up to 2 hours.

Form and cook the tortillas: Set a large (ideally, flat) pan over medium-high heat until it begins to smoke. Line a tortilla basket or bowl with a clean kitchen towel: as you cook each tortilla, you will layer it on top of the others in the basket, wrap the basket with the towel, and cover it (with an inverted plate in the case of the bowl) to finish cooking tortillas and keep them warm.

Open your tortilla press and lay a plastic round in the center of the press’s bottom plate. Grab a small piece of dough (about 2 tablespoons’ worth) and roll it between your palms into a ball. Put it in the center of the plastic round, drape the other plastic round on top, and press down gently with your palm to flatten the ball a bit. Close the tortilla press, push down firmly on the handle, open the press again, rotate the plastic rounds 180 degrees, and press down again. Your goal is a tortilla of even thickness.

Open the press, pick up the tortilla, plastic and all, and carefully peel off the plastic from one side and then the other. (If the tortilla sticks to the plastic, the dough is too wet and you should gradually add a little more tortilla flour.) With the tortilla draped on your palm, gently lay the tortilla (resist the temptation to flop it) onto the pan with a turn of your wrist.

Set a timer if it’s your first or even third time cooking tortillas. Cook the tortilla on one side until the edges just barely lift from the pan, about 20 seconds. Use your fingers or a spatula to carefully flip the tortilla, then cook it for about 45 seconds. Flip it again, and cook it for 30 seconds. Each side should have a few brown spots. (If there are no brown spots, the heat is too low. If the brown spots look dark, the heat is too high.)

Put the cooked tortilla in the kitchen towel-lined basket or bowl, cover, and one by one, repeat forming and cooking the tortillas.

— From “Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales: Flavors from the Griddles, Pots and Streetside Kitchens of Mexico” by Roberto Santibañez (Wiley)

And here's Nancy and her friends in action.

"You will never get a man to marry you if you don't learn to make tortillas." – Denise Cortes' mom.