Wednesday, May 21, 2008

My tortilla heaven

One of the first things I tried to make when I found out I could no longer eat gluten were tortillas. Immediately after my diagnosis I headed to Jimbos in search of gluten free goods, some marshmellow rice treats, a box of rice crackers, Annies GF mac and cheese and my first gluten free baking mix one that contained mostly bean and soy flours and had a recipie for tortillas on the back. When I got home after unloading all of my gf treasures I grabbed an apron and my new gf baking mix and got to work on the tortillas. Following the directions I added some water and mixed it up, seperated the dough into little balls, flattened them out by hand, and placed the delicate patties in a pan to cook. The “tortillas” were a thick crumbly mess, incredibly dense and had a bitter aftertaste that did not taste tortilla like at all. Prior to my gluten abolition my favorite tortillas were:

White spelt flour tortillas from Jimbos
Whole wheat flour tortillas from Trader Joes
Tortillaland brand premade uncooked flour tortillas from Costco

My last choice in tortillas were ones made with corn. They always seamed too dry and lacked the light fluffy highly foldable quality that flour tortillas had. Even long after I gave up my beloved flour tortillas and reluctantly started to eat the corn ones I learned to enjoy them but never really learned to love them. Then one day a few months ago while shopping at one of my local markets that had recently undergone a renovation I found myself perusing their new foreign foods section. I grabbed a pack of rice noodles in the Thai section, ogled the bottles of aged balsamic in the Italian section, and resisted the chocolate covered digestive cookies in the British section. Then I got to the Hispanic section, bottles of spicy hot sauce, beans of every shape and shade, and jars of colorful peppers lined the shelves. On the bottom shelf a large orange bag with a yellow ear of smiling corn caught my eye.

I crouched down to take a closer look at the orange bag. Turning the bag around to read the side panel I found a recipe for corn tortillas and below that a list of ingredients in the masa, corn flour. No bleached white flour, no whole wheat flour just completely gluten free corn. I immediately recalled rumors I had heard in the past about how homemade corn tortillas were delicious but had always shrugged it off assuming that since I did not care for the store bought ones I would have an equal disdain for the homemade ones too. But now having months ago reached my wits end in a search for a good gluten free tortilla, feeling for so long now lost in a sea of unappetizing wraps the sight of this orange bag and smiley corn renewed my hope. Could this be the answer to my tortilla prayers? I lugged the big bag of flour to the checkout and headed home to test it out.

I followed the directions, adding water and a bit of salt, mixing up the dough and forming it into little balls with my hands. Being that this was my first experience making tortillas I did not have a press so I used some wax paper, a dinner plate and rolling pin to flatten the little balls of dough. While this method worked it was highly tedious taking just shy of an hour to adequately flatten all of the balls. I heated a skillet on high and cooked the tortillas until they started to become polka doted with brown specks. For the taste test I smeared my first tortilla with a little earth balance and took a bite…

Oh my goodness, the rumors were most definitely true and I was at long last in tortilla heaven again. They were better than any white or wheat flour tortilla I had ever tasted and a hundred times tastier than their pre-packaged store bought friends. After years and years of hating on corn tortillas my opinion had been swayed with one bite of this scrumptious homemade circle of corn.

I immediately decided that a tortilla press was an absolute necessity in my kitchen and went out in search of one. They were harder to find than I had anticipated but eventually I found an aluminum one at World Market. Sadly, it was not all that I had dreamed it would be and only flattened the dough slightly still leaving a need to squish it with the rolling pin a bit to get it to the desired thickness. Lucky for me my adventure loving brother and father were going on a surf trip to Ixtapa, Mexico and when they asked me if I wanted anything while they were there I eagerly replied, “A cast iron tortilla press please!”. A few weeks later they were back, tan, in one piece (there were shark attacks in the area they were surfing at!), and with my very own cast iron press in tow. Just as I thought this heavy press worked like a charm and flattened tortillas in just one or two squishes of the press taking only 10 minutes to flatten the same amount of tortillas it was taking me an hour to make by hand!

Quick, easy to make and scrumptious with everything from tofu and bell peppers to melted butter sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. Another delicious accompaniment I have found is the classic beans and cheese. Refried beans are delish but a healthier and more flavorful alternative are black beans and like many things are best when homemade. Here is a recipe that I frequently use as a base when I am in the mood for beans. You can alter the spice and sweetness to your specific taste and serve with whatever side you like but I highly recommend grabbing a bag of masa harina and enjoying these delicious and nutritious beans with some homemade tortillas.

Black Beans
Serves 4 or 5 hungry people

Ingredients for beans
  • 1 tablespoon extra light olive oil

  • 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 bell peppers, chopped into small bite sized squares (I like red or orange but you can use whatever your tummy desires!)

  • 2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced or squished in a press

  • 1 teaspoon oregano

  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger

  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin

  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1 or 2 splashes rice vinegar or dry white wine

  • 3 cans black beans (do not drain beans)

  • salt and pepper to taste

  • ½ teaspoon chili powder or 1 teaspoon hot sauce (optional, if you like it hot)

  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar or honey (or both if you like it sweet!)

Ingredients for toppings

15 or so little red tomatoes (cherry or grape work well), cut in half

1/2 cup pepper jack cheese (soy, rice or moo cow), grated

Ingredients for serving
Avocado, sliced and sprinkled lightly with sea salt
Homemade corn tortillas (I use the recipe on the masa harina bag)
Fresh cilantro


The base: veggies and spices

Add your oil to a sauce pan or skillet and heat over medium high heat (you are only cooking in this one pan so you want to use a something big enough to hold all of your ingredients). Once oil is hot add your onions and cook for about 15 minutes stirring them about occasionally. Once the onions are translucent and slightly golden you can add the garlic and bell pepper. After this has cooked for about 5 minutes add the oregano, ginger, cumin and cinnamon to the veggies, stir until combined and then add the rice vinegar or wine and stir about.

The star ingredient

Now you are ready to add the most important ingredient in black beans, the beans! Add all 3 cans to the skillet (no draining them first, you want the juices and all) give this a good stir and add in your honey and/or brown sugar. Season to taste with salt, pepper and chili powder or hot sauce. Give a good stir to combine and then cover, reduce the heat and let simmer on low for 1 ½ to 2 hours.

The tasty toppings

Once your beans are just about done cooking you can start preparing the toppings. Heat a lightly greased pan over high heat. Once the pan is hot add your tomatoes. Cook the tomatoes until their skin wrinkles and they start to break down a bit, about 5 minutes.

Serving suggestions

Cook up some fresh tortillas made with masa harina and fill these scrumptious corn patties with the beans, top with some tomatoes, sprinkle with cheese and garnish with a few leaves of cilantro. Add a few slices of avocado speckled with sea salt on the side and you have once super scrumptious meal.

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