My eleven-year-old taught me how to make homemade corn tortillas and they were outstanding. My son appreciates good food, he always has actually, with the exception of sweet potatoes. As a baby, he loved most flavors and textures. By age five it was clear I had a fish and vegetable lover on my hands and he would gladly gobble up smoked salmon with a side of cucumber. A dream come true for a parent. Tortillas, flour or corn, were also something he loved and would request that over other breads often.
My son is also a talker (something else I’m thankful for). Even as a fifth-grader, he reliably comes home and reports about his day; the good, the bad, the unusual and the extraordinary. Typical things I hear about are interesting facts he learned in class, what he played during recess, who got in trouble in class for not listening or who was the last man standing in kickball. But recently my son came home talking about his new Spanish teacher, Mr. Ybarrola. Mr. Ybarrola was a teacher who (according to my son) taught “differently” than most other teachers–one who taught through immersion. My son was hooked from the beginning.
Right before Christmas Mr. Ybarrola decided to teach his class how to make fresh tortillas. He provided history and step-by-step instructions on authentic corn tortilla making. That day my son came home with lots to say about Spanish class and the making of these incredible tortillas. He and I agreed we needed to blog about it and he would show me how to make them.
I ordered my tortilla press and picked up some masa harina, I was ready. Saturday morning came and my son was up early and agreeable about helping me make breakfast; we decided homemade tortillas was going to be a part of that. I watched as my son slowly and patiently mixed of the masa and water, gently formed the dough into perfect little balls, placed them gingerly into the tortilla press between two pieces of plastic (like he was shown to do at school) and gently applied just enough pressure to the press to flatten them to the desired thickness (by far the hardest part about making tortillas).
Next, I watched as he heated a small cast iron pan with a little bit of oil and carefully cooked the tortillas one-by-one. He stacked the tortillas high on a plate like a badge of accomplishment. I tried one, they were fantastic. They were simple, earthy and absolutely delicious. But breakfast was not done just yet.
We decoded to make some fluffy scrambled eggs (another favorite of his) and topped the warm tortillas with the eggs, chopped grape tomato and some micro arugula. We both devoured. My older son added cheese, my husband, hot sauce, but we all agreed Noah’s tortillas were exceptional.
I reached out to my son’s teacher when I was working on this post to thank him for what he taught my son and for going the extra mile in his teaching approach. Below is a brief blurb on the history on tortillas Mr. Ybarrola was also kind enough to share with me:
“Corn tortillas have been a staple in Mexican and Mesoamerican culture since pre-Columbian times. But they only exist because of a process developed by the Mayans thousands of years ago called nixtamalization. The Mayans discovered that soaking dried corn in an alkaline solution of water and lime (calcium hydroxide) softens the corn and significantly enriches its nutritional value. It can then be ground into soft masa to make tortillas. Corn tortillas are still eaten daily with all meals in Mexico and much of Central America and are the basis of traditional dishes such as tacos, tostadas, enchiladas, chilaquiles, and more.“
My son (who claims he’s not much of a writer) did not want to actually write this post himself, but he did want me to include this note from him on making tortillas from scratch:
“I found tortillas much easier to make than I thought they would be. The trick I use when making them is not making the dough balls too big. You also need to try very hard not to apply too much pressure when using the press. I thought it was really cool my teacher taught my class how to do this and I liked showing my mom how to make something for once. I hope you like our recipe.” – Noah
Homemade Corn Tortillas
- 1 1/2 cups masa harina
- 1 cup cold water, plus more as need
- oil for cooking tortillas
- Step 1 For the Dough: In a small mixing bowl add the masa harina and about 1/2 cup of water to start. Using your hands, gently knead the dough. Note: getting the right texture is important, you want the dough to be as moist as possible without sticking to your hands. To do this, continue to add the additional water one tablespoon at a time until you reached the ideal consistency. If the dough is cracking, add more water. Form the dough into 12 equal pieces and roll into balls. Cover the dough balls with a damp towel. Set aside.
- Step 2 Pressing the Tortillas: Prepare your 7-inch tortilla press by cutting two circle pieces of a freezer bag to fit the tortilla press and prevent sticking. Open the press and place one circle on the bottom plate and the other on the top plate making sure there are no wrinkles.
- Step 3 Working with one dough ball at a time, gently flatten it into a disk with your fingers, set aside.
- Step 4 Place the tortilla press with the pressure handle closest to your dominant hand. With the press open, and a piece of plastic on the bottom and top, place the disk in the center of the bottom plate. Close the top plate, ensuring that the second piece of plastic is secured on top. Fold the handle of the press and apply pressure. Fold back the handle and open the press. Carefully peel the top plastic for the tortilla. The tortilla should be about 5 inches in diameter and about 1/8th inch in thickness. Flip the tortilla over onto your empty palm, and carefully peel off the second piece of plastic. Repeat the above with the remaining dough.
- Step 5 To Cook the Tortillas: Fold a cloth napkin or clean kitchen towel in half and place on a plate to hold the cooked tortillas. Set aside. Lightly oil a large cast iron skillet and place over medium-high heat. When hot, but not smoking, add one tortilla at a time and cook for about 15 seconds until the tortilla begins to change color. Using a metal spatula, gently flip the tortilla and cook for an additional 10 seconds. Transfer the tortilla to the prepared cloth and cover to keep warm. Serve with your favorite dish that calls for tortillas.