Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Handmade Corn Tortillas from Scratch (And Beans, and Almond Milk!)

From Foodsies!

I cut down on my drinking, and now that I don't come home and start in on a beer, I have been cooking instead. And by cooking, I mean "awesomely cooking things from scratch" (and by cutting down on drinking I mean 4 or less a week).

Although time consuming, it turns out that making most things from scratch is pretty easy and a lot of fun. It also gives me a powerful sense of accomplishment.

On Sunday I was sitting at home alone, kneading some sourdough. I had the bowl in which I was kneading on a chair because i'm too short to get leverage if it's on the counter, so I was bent over the chair and my arms were sore, but the dough smelled good and felt good, and even the soreness was OK by me (mostly from Pilates anyway, not from the kneading). So I was standing there kneading and kneading and kneading, and I noticed that it was fairly warm and sunny (for March in Boston) and the cat was sitting on the kitchen table watching me with his eyes half closed, and the dog was curled up near my feet. And I thought, this is it. What more can I ask for than to be standing in the sun, creating tasty and nourishing food with my own hands, surrounded by animals that love me? Well, I would have asked for Abigail to be home and in the kitchen too ;)

But that's the gist of it, that's why I am on this hand-made kick. It just feels right. It feels good. I really dig the sense of accomplishment after I look at something i've made, plus I think it all tastes better. I mean, maybe it doesn't actually taste better, but I know everything that is in it, and I know how it was prepared, and of course it's totally fresh.

So anyway: tortillas. Mmm! I love tortillas, especially corn tortillas. But i've never made my own. Well, now I have. They may be ugly, but they're mine :) And they tasted amazing hot off the griddle.

It's like the easiest procedure ever. The only thing that could make it easier would be a tortilla press (i'm totally ordering one soon).

Corn Tortillas

Ingredients (for 6 small tortillas)

1 Cup Masa Harina*
3/4 Cup Warm Water

*Masa Harina is a cornmeal made by treating dried corn with lime (calcium hydroxide) and water. It is not the same as corn flour, which is dried corn that has not been treated with lime.


Mix the masa harina and the water in a mixing bowl. You want a dough which is slightly moist but not wet but not dry and crumbly. You may need to add more water, or more masa harina to get it right. Knead the dough a little, and if it all crumbles apart, then it needs more water. Just add a teaspoon at a time so it doesn't get too wet (it shouldn't be super slick). Knead for another minute or two until it's pretty smooth.

Cover the bowl with a damp washcloth and get the rest of your setup ready:

You will need -
2 sheets of plastic wrap
A small dish of flour (so you can keep the plastic wrap floured)
A rolling pin, beer bottle (empty!), or glass pie plate*
A plate, dusted with flour

* I haven't tried with the pie plate, but i've heard you can use it to smoosh down the ball of dough and then sorta press down the plate and push it around to make the tortilla. YMMV I guess.

Rub some flour on the two sheets of plastic wrap. This is harder than it sounds, but do your best.

Now remove the damp washcloth and place it near the plate.

Divide your dough into 12 pieces and roll each piece between your palms to form a ball. Smaller balls will make smaller tortillas and vice versa. In general you're going for something just a bit larger than a golf ball.

Place the ball on a sheet of plastic wrap and then place the other sheet of plastic wrap on top of it. Use your palm to very slighly smoosh down the ball into a thick pattie.

Now use your rolling pin to carefully roll out the dough into a flat tortilla (with the dough still between the plastic wrap, mind).

Hahaha! Not so easy is it? It took me a few tries to get it going, so just experiment. I found that the same kind of rolling strokes I use for pie crust really don't quite work here. It required a sort of modified stroke, where I would slowly press out from the middle and then roll quickly back and forth from the middle to the edge. Then the same thing but in the opposite direction, then the same thing but a few degrees over.

Once you get a totally not at all round tortilla rolled out, carefully lift off the top sheet of plastic wrap. Then pick up the bottom piece of plastic wrap (with tortilla on it) and peel the plastic wrap carefully off from the tortilla.

Place the tortilla on the plate and cover with the damp towel.

Move on to the next ball of dough.

Once you have all of the tortillas formed, you just need to cook them. It's quick.

Heat a skillet or griddle and once it's nice and hot, place a tortilla down on it. Give it about 30-60 seconds and flip it. Give it another 60 seconds and flip back. Wait 15-30 seconds and you're done.

OK, I hate cooking by timing like that. Instead, you can also just wait and when you notice the edges of the tortilla starting to curl up and/or the center start to puff up a little, it's time to flip. Feel free to nibble the edges too to see if it's done :)

Place completed tortillas on another plate and cover with a damp cloth.

I ate mine topped with black beans (from scratch), seitan (also made by me), and some veggies. To drink I had a nice glass of Almond Milk (made by me).

From Foodsies!

Black Beans

I also got adventurous and made my own black beans from scratch (ie, from dry beans not from a can).

It's easy - you soak a cup of black beans in 3 cups of water (or 2 cups beans in 6 cups water, etc) overnight in a cool dark place.

The next day, strain out the water and rinse several times with new water.

Add to a nice pot along with 3 cups of water (or 5-6 cups for 2 cups of beans) and a tsp or so of salt, and a few pinches of pepper. You can also add a little diced onion and any other seasonings you want.

Bring to a boil and then cover and lower the heat so it's simmering. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for about an hour. When you go to stir, also check the water level. It should be fine but if for some reason it is getting really low, add a little more. The last thing you want is to run out of water and have your beans burn.

You know they're done when they're soft enough to easily smoosh. Drain and you're done.

Almond Milk

As I mentioned, I also made Almond Milk for the first time yesterday. It's a little quicker than Soy Milk because you don't have to boil it.

Soak 1 cup of almonds in 3 cups of water for 24-48 hours in a cool, dark place. If you're soaking for 48 hours, make sure to drain and refill the water halfway through.

Once they've soaked, they will be nice and plump. Drain and then rinse several times.

Add to a blender (VitaMix is awesome for this but any blender will do) along with 7 cups of water. Blend for a few minutes until smooth.

Look inside. You should notice lots of foam. That's normal. You will probably also notice lots of almond meal floating around. Also normal (we'll get rid of that in a minute).

Add any sweetener if you want - I add a tsp of vanilla and a tsp of agave nectar. Blend for another minute to mix in the sweetener.

Now, grab a bowl and a metal mesh strainer. Place the strainer over the bowl to drain into the bowl, and place the cheesecloth in the strainer to add extra fine strainingness. Now pour some of the almond milk into the cheesecloth/strainer. It should slowly drain into the bowl. If the foam isn't cooperating, just skim it off the top.
Go about your business for a few minutes and when you return, you should have some almond milk in the bowl and some almond slop in the cheesecloth. Use a spoon to scrape off the almond slop and throw it in a bowl to compost (or fine, throw it in the trash). You can dry it out and then use it as a baking additive, but google can tell ya all about that.

Repeat the process of pouring, draining, and removing almond meal until all of the almond milk has been poured out of the blender and is in the bowl. Now you can decant it into a bottle of some kind (I use a really big jar). Drink and enjoy.

If you want it thicker, use a little less water. Thinner, use more. If it's too grainy, then fold your cheesecloth over a few times before straining, or strain more than once.

Btw, care for your cheesecloth! It will stay in better shape if you rinse and scrub with warm water and then unfold and hang spread out to dry. It will still get old and hard and progressively more annoying to work with, but if you take care of it you can slow that process.

Whew! All this handmade stuff is making my hands tired :) Next i'll be trying to make my own vegan Irish Cream, a Rye Sourdough, frozen burritos (with handmade flour tortillas, natch), Soy Milk (in the vitamix!) and god knows what else.

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