Tag Archives: tortillas


If you have never eaten a freshly made tortilla, you do not know what you have been missing. Home-made tortillas are to the ones you buy in the supermarket like a slice of home-baked bread compared with the white-bread dough balls you also buy in the supermarket.

Fortunately, modernity has had an impact on tortilla making. If you had been a Native American making tortillas years ago, you would have had to make hominy or posole by mixing dried corn with wood ash, washing off the husks, and then grinding the still-damp corn kernels. Then you would mix that with a little salt (maybe) and knead it with a little water to the right consistency to form masa – literally  “dough”  to make tortillas, arepas, papusas, etc. These days, all you have to do is buy a sack of masa harina de maiz para tortillas y tamales (The package may have all or only some of these words – don’t worry, buy it.) The two most common brands in the USA are Quaker and Maseca. Masa harina or masa flour is actually dried masa which only needs water to form the dough.

Even though making the dough is easy, you may need some special equipment to make perfect tortillas. Of course experienced Mexican and Native American cooks just pat out perfectly round tortillas between their two hands. That expertise comes only from years of practice, so consider using some simple and inexpensive assistive devices.

Cast metal tortilla press made in Mexico

Cast metal tortilla press made in Mexico

First is the tortilla press. Several models are available in cooking shops or from the internet. The one I use was made in Mexico of cast iron. Some versions are made from wood; some have non-stick surfaces. They will probably cost around $20. If you don’t want to invest in one, you can use a small length of 2 inch PVC pipe as a sort of rolling-pin. With practice, that works OK, but it’s still not as good or easy as a press.

Second is the plastic protector. If you try to make tortillas on a bare press surface, they will probably stick – even with the “non-stick” variety – so you need plastic from which you can peel off the tortilla. I use a plastic sandwich bag. With a sharp knife, open the sides of the bag. Do not slit open the bottom fold of the bag. That way you will have a long, narrow plastic sheet with a fold in the middle. This will cost only about 2 cents or so.

Cast iron comal made in Mexico

Cast iron comal made in Mexico

Third is the comal. This is a round cast-iron pan with low sides. Mine is from Mexico. You can buy a similar one from a kitchen store or from the internet for around $20. You can also use a cast-iron skillet. The important thing is that the pan holds heat, so a light weight pan won’t work as well, and a non-stick pan really isn’t needed.

Ball of masa sandwiched in the prepared bag, ready to be pressed

Ball of masa sandwiched in the prepared bag, ready to be pressed

Another perfect tortilla ready to be baked

Another perfect tortilla ready to be baked

A pressed tortilla ready to be tranferred from the plastic to the palm of the hand and then the hot comal

A pressed tortilla ready to be transferred from the plastic to the palm of the hand and then the hot comal



  • 2 cups masa harina
  • 1 1/3 cups warm water
  • ½ teaspoon salt
Freshly-pressed tortilla baking on the hot comal

Freshly-pressed tortilla baking on the hot comal

Flipped over to be baked on the second side, this tortilla shows the color and brown spots from a well-heated comal

Flipped over to be baked on the second side, this tortilla shows the color and brown spots from a well-heated comal


  • Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Stir until completely combined into a soft dough. If the flour does not all come together, add a few drops of additional water.
  • Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes. This will allow the water to be completely absorbed make a smoother masa. If the masa is still crumbly, you can add a few more drops of water. Just be judicious in your additions, because you don’t want the masa to be too soft.
  • When you are ready to make the tortillas, remove the plastic wrap, knead the masa gently a few times, and then divide the dough into 12 equal-sized pieces. For more precision, you can weigh them (Each individual ball should weigh 1/12th of the weight of the total ball), but that may seem too compulsive.
  • One at a time, remove the pieces of dough, recovering the others with plastic film. Roll the dough into a ball
  • Prepare the tortilla press by covering the opened press with the prepared plastic sandwich bag. Then place the ball of dough in the  center of the bottom plate of the press. Cover with the flap of the sandwich bag, cover with the free plate of the press, and press down smoothly with the lever of the press.
  • Remove the plastic with the pressed tortilla from the press. Turn the tortilla into your hand, and then transfer gently to the middle of the comal which has been pre-heated over a medium-high flame.
  • Bake for about 30 seconds or until the underside is a light toasty color with dark brown flecks. Turn over and bake for another 30 seconds or so. The tortilla may puff up during the baking. That’s good. You can use a pancake turner to flatten the tortilla against the surface of the comal to make sure that the whole surface of the tortilla is baked.
  • Adjust the heat under the comal if the tortillas burn or do not bake quickly enough.
  • Press one tortilla while the previous one is baking. Continue the process until all of the dough balls have been used.
  • Keep the baked tortillas warm in a folded tea towel or in a special tortilla warmer. Serve immediately.
Insulated cloth tortilla warmer - slip warm tortillas into a slot on the side as you make them

Insulated cloth tortilla warmer – slip warm tortillas into a slot on the side as you make them

Stacking tortillas with cheese in preparation for huevos rancheros

Stacking tortillas with cheese in preparation for huevos rancheros

Once you get them baked, just slather them with butter and eat while warm. They are delicious that way, but they also make great huevos rancheros.

Huevos rancheros with black beans - there is no better breakfast

Huevos rancheros with black beans – there is no better breakfast



Filed under Food, Photography, Recipes


Our family has lived in the Southwest for so long that we have adopted many of its traditions. For years we have made tamales on Christmas Eve, and now that is also a tradition for our children and their families, regardless of where they live. Making tamales from scratch is fun, and the fresh, finished product always tastes better than even the best store-bought versions. Posole warms the body and the soul on a cold winter evening, and it is perfect for a family gathering on New Year’s Eve. Biscochos (in El Paso) or biscochitos (in Santa Fe) have to be homemade and – like the tamales – have to be made with lard to taste like the real thing. The crisp anise-flavored cookies compete with my grandmother’s anise-flavored German springerle when it comes to dipping into a cup of hot chocolate or a glass of milk.

Chicken thighs cooking in stock with vegetables

Green chile chicken stew is in a class by itself. A hot bowl always reminds me of long-ago lunches in the lodges at the top of the runs at Taos Ski Valley or Ski Apache in Ruidoso. Our kids always ask for it when they visit us in Santa Fe, and so we try to have a pot on the stove for them when they arrive from a long cross-country drive. Our usual recipe calls for a whole chicken and makes enough for a large group. This version is quick, but by cooking the chicken in stock along with vegetables the broth becomes especially rich. If you are in a hurry, just skip adding the vegetables. The recipe makes enough for four adults. It is ideal for the late evening arrival of tired travelers.

Ready for your choice of garnishes



4 Cups chicken stock

4 chicken thighs

1 medium onion, cut in quarters

1 medium carrot, cut in thirds

1 stalk celery cut in thirds

1 handful fresh celery leaves

3 stems fresh parsley

12 whole peppercorns

1 Roma tomato

2 Tablespoons cooking oil

1 medium yellow onion, diced

4 ounces chopped green chiles

2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into ¾ inch cubes

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

2 Tablespoons dried Mexican oregano, crushed

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

  1. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, bring the chicken stock to the boil. Add the chicken thighs, onion, carrot, celery, celery leaves, parsley, and peppercorns. Continue to cook at a very low boil for about 45 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
  2.  About 10 minutes before the chicken is cooked, squeeze the Roma tomato into the stock and add the pulp.
  3.  Remove from the heat. Strain the stock into a container and allow to cool so that you can remove the fat that gathers on the top. Set aside.
  4.  Remove the skin and bones from the thigh meat, chop the meat into bite-sized pieces and set aside.
  5. Clean the pot and return it to the stove over a medium flame. Heat the oil, and then add the diced onions. Cover and sweat the onions for 5 minutes or until they are soft and translucent. Do not allow them to brown.
  6. Add the green chiles and minced garlic and continue to cook, uncovered. Stir frequently until the moisture has evaporated from the mixture. Add the flour and stir continuously for about 3 minutes so that the onions and chiles are completely coated and the flour has lost its raw taste.
  7. Add the strained, cooled chicken stock and cubed potatoes. Return to the boil, stirring frequently. Continue to cook at a low boil until the potatoes are soft and cooked through – about 20 to 30 minutes.
  8. Stir in the cumin, oregano, salt and pepper. Adjust the seasoning with more salt and pepper if needed and continue to simmer for 10 minutes.
  9. Add the chicken pieces, simmer for another 10 minutes, and then serve in large soup bowls along with your choice of garnishes.

Green chle stew with the garnishes our family likes


There are lots of traditional choices for garnish. We always like to pass bowls of chopped fresh cilantro leaves, thin-sliced, baked corn tortilla strips, grated Monterrey jack cheese, and diced avocados along with hot sauce for those who like their soup spicier. We also like to serve hot tortillas (corn or wheat) or cornbread fresh out of the oven.


Filed under Food, Photography, Recipes