Easy Tortillas? Think Again
Making a tortilla isn’t easy.
I learned this on a recent Thursday night among women from First Presbyterian Church in Newton, NC. We were students of master tortilla-maker Haydee Rodas, who was visiting from our sister church, Iglesia el Redentor, in Guatemala.
I know; tortilla-making sounds so simple. A large bowl of flour mixed ever so right with water, salt, baking powder and shortening. Roll them out, no wait! We watched as Haydee shaped them completely by hand. Pat, pat, turn, pat.
Several of us tried our hands with mixed results. I rolled the billiard-sized sphere of dough in my palm. As soon as the thing began to flatten and I started cartwheeling it around with my fingers, chunks peeled off. I’d try to repair the scallops to no use, then had to start over. One side stuck again, which made the operation all the more frustrating. We all laughed at my lack of coordination.
By the time I had fumbled and started over twice, Haydee had made two more perfect tortillas that would be fresh and far better tasting than the leathery commercial variety.
I remained a miserable failure at tortilla-making until Haydee produced a small circle of waxed paper and placed it on the table. I called it the cheat sheet, but it was no surprise. In fact, that’s how I make pie dough, if I ever get around to making pie dough. Flatten the crust – or the tortilla – evenly on the waxed paper, then gently peel the product off the backing. Bueno!
Next came the cooking. Haydee placed the tortillas on a hot griddle, taking care to not let them stick or be undercooked. At home she does all this over a wood fire so the electric griddle threw her a bit.
Like any expert, Haydee made tortilla-making look as simple as riding a bike, though I understand she doesn’t ride a bike at all, which goes to show how each of us is blessed with certain gifts and abilities. Clearly, shaping dough is not mine.
Blame modern life. Processed and convenience foods make it too easy to ignore our cooking skills, and that’s a shame. Pizza dough, biscuits, pie crust, Cornish pasties, and tortillas are all statements about our heritage, who we are, what we eat, what we do. After Haydee’s demonstration, none of us will be able to consider the humble tortilla quite the same way again.