Tuesday, November 23

Tortillas in Flats


Today we have a very special guest: fellow foodie and blogger, Mañana Mama. After reading about my Spanish tortilla recipe, she very kindly offered to share her family's secret recipe for Mexican tortilla. Not only did Mañana Mama give me the recipe, she actually spent hours one weekend cooking said tortilla, a green chilli sauce, stuffed Anaheim chillies (which she and her husband grew in their garden), an enchilada and beans, and invited us to her home to show me how it's done. The result (pictured above, before cheese was added and the whole thing was grilled) was incredible and one of the best things I've tasted. So, you've been hearing from Cinnamon in America and me in London, now it's time to hear from an American in London...

Culturally speaking, Britain is about the farthest point in the galaxy from Mexico. This is why I react like a vampire in direct sunlight whenever I spot a Mexican restaurant in London. In fairness, I am a pretty picky eater when it comes to my favourite cuisine, so I tend to make my own.

Truffle recently converted me to the cause of the Spanish tortilla. In compensation or as revenge (depending on your view of my cooking), I am trying to addict her to a distant, long-lost Mexican primo: the humble, home-made flour tortilla.

Flour tortillas are pretty easy to come by these days, even in Britain. Bland, paper-thin, long-life tortillas can be found at just about any shop, right alongside Marmite, marmalade, mushy peas and many other very-non-Mexican staples.

A shop tortilla is essentially bendable, digestible cardboard. A real deal flour tortilla is soft, springy, yielding and comforting—like a 12-tog goose-down duvet for your mouth. It is best consumed straight off the griddle or shortly thereafter and preferably made by your favourite auntie or someone who calls you 'mi hijita'.

Put your hand over a plate of fresh, home-made tortillas and you will feel a sense of warmth radiate right through your fingertips and spread down to your toes. I reckon a nice plate of tortillas in the right mouth at the right time might bring about world peace in one floury fell swoop (I admit, a discussion for another day with a gazillion more sources).

But regarding economic problems, tortillas are possibly the cheapest foodstuff known to man. The ratio of deliciousness to pence is incredibly high, making tortillas an ideal recession food. For instance, if you are so broke that you had to sell the cutlery (or buy it off eBay like Cherie... - Ed.), you can just use a tortilla instead—it will be the tastiest spork you ever used.

Louise, aka the Tortilla Queen, is a very wise family friend who once showed me how to make the perfect tortilla:

Stir together 5 cups of flour (white, wholewheat, or whatever), 1 tablespoon of baking powder, 4 teaspoons of salt. Add about 2 cups of water and 5 tablespoons of oil (any kind you have to hand). Mix, then knead lightly on a floured surface. Heat an ungreased frying pan over medium-high heat. Divide the dough into 6 to 8 rounds. The dough is very elastic and will contract, so roll the rounds flat one at a time, just before placing them on the heated griddle. Fry each tortilla for a minute or two per side, until it retains elasticity but loses sponginess in the centre. Stack tortillas on a plate and cover with a thick towel to keep them warm. Man cannot live by tortillas alone (I have tried), so consume with green chile stew or red chile posole, or whatever dip-able thing you have to hand. Share and enjoy.

As a New Mexican in London, I am frequently mistaken for a freckly albino from Chiapas with a suspiciously gringa accent. This confusion is understandable—most American states don't have another country's name thrown in for kicks—no New Sudan for instance. And of course had it not been for the Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo of 1848, in which Mexico ceded New Mexico to America at the end of the Mexican-American War, I would indeed be a freckly Mexican gringa (national lines come and go, freckles sadly remain).

But food has a way of transcending national boundaries. Tortillas, corn and flour alike, are the great Mexico/New Mexico culinary connector. However, beware 'corn' tortillas on British shelves—these are essentially long-life flour tortillas with a little corn thrown in for colour, and they lack all the charm and personality of real corn tortillas.

Chillies span the border, but New Mexicans culinarily differ from Mexicans in their pathological obsession with hotter-than-average local Anaheim chile cultivars, known simply 'green' or 'red'. Red chile pods are hung up in ristras to dry, and then turned into sauce all year round. Green is flame-roasted, then deep fried in rellenos, draped on pizzas or burgers or whatever, or chopped and turned into a sauce for smothering or dipping. Mexican food varies a lot by region, but tends to involve an assortment of chillies such as serranos, poblanos, jalapenos and habaneros.

Red chile ristras


Green chiles roasting

If any of this sounds appetizing but you live here in London, a galaxy removed from the land of chilli enchantment, don't despair. Likewise don't go looking for it at a restaurant, because it's pretty easy and far more tasty to make it yourself. The ingredients for tortillas couldn't be simpler. And for dipping, you can now buy Anaheims at England's summer chilli festivals, including the Benington Lordship festival in Hertfordshire and the West Dean Gardens Chile Fiesta in Sussex. Or you can pick your own chillies at Edible Ornamentals in Bedfordshire. If you don't fancy trekking out to Herts or Beds or Sussex, Truffle tells me that tortillas are delicious when piled high with Indian vegetables. Or for the sweet-toothed, they are divine when smeared generously with butter and honey.


Finished tortilla

After giving me the treasured tortilla recipe, the Tortilla Queen and I made a batch. Unsurprisingly, hers were like pure down-duvet heaven, and mine were more like bog standard fleece. I asked her what I was doing wrong. She looked me up and down and said with apologetic earnestness that I might be a bit too gringa to ever really excel at tortilla-making. As someone who has gone by such nicknames as 'hey blondie' and 'huera' (a New Mexicanism for 'hey blondie'), I must concede that she has a point. But in my spare time and on my less huera days, I'm still trying for the perfect tortilla.


Thank you so much, Mañana Mama, for sharing your recipe and educating us on New Mexican cuisine! We're going to want that green chilli stew recipe next...


Update: Here is Mañana Mama's green chilli stew recipe!

Regarding stew, ask and you shall receive! It's pretty easy, more of a pinch of this and that than a proper recipe:

Brown about a pound of cubed beef, pork or chicken in butter or oil in a large pot. Add a chopped onion and some minced garlic, then fill the pot with beef, pork or chicken stock (depending on which meat you originally used). Toss in several potatoes (cubed roughly) and carrots (optional). Bring to a simmer. Season to taste with salt, pepper, a dash of cumin, and a dash of oregano. Add healthy helping of chopped green chilli, or red chilli powder (or sauce), depending on your colour preference and what you have available. Keep adding chilli until you reach your desired heat level. Simmer for about an hour, until the potatoes are cooked through and the stock has reduced and thickened. Eat with tortillas.

Chilli stew is a reliable cure for the common cold, and for uncommonly cold weather alike. And while it simmers, it will fill your house with a wonderful, warm aroma.

Enjoy.

7 comments:

~Mama said...

A pleasure, thanks C&T for the opportunity.

Regarding stew, ask and you shall receive! It's pretty easy, more of a pinch of this and that than a proper recipe:

Brown about a pound of cubed beef, pork or chicken in butter or oil in a large pot. Add a chopped onion and some minced garlic, then fill the pot with beef, pork or chicken stock (depending on which meat you originally used). Toss in several potatoes (cubed roughly) and carrots (optional). Bring to a simmer. Season to taste with salt, pepper, a dash of cumin, and a dash of oregano. Add healthy helping of chopped green chilli, or red chilli powder (or sauce), depending on your colour preference and what you have available. Keep adding chilli until you reach your desired heat level. Simmer for about an hour, until the potatoes are cooked through and the stock has reduced and thickened. Eat with tortillas.

Chilli stew is a reliable cure for the common cold, and for uncommonly cold weather alike. And while it simmers, it will fill your house with a wonderful, warm aroma.

Enjoy.

Cinnamon and Truffle said...

Beautiful! Thank you so much. I made some today to help deal with the Big Freeze - it was delicious, and so comforting. A timely recipe.

I also had a stab at some wholewheat tortillas to go with it. I'm definitely a convert - they just tasted a world apart from the wholewheat pita breads and tortillas from the supermarket.

Love

Truffle

Cinnamon and Truffle said...

Dear Manana Mama,

An excellent post! I really enjoyed reading it.

Now, have you had home made chapathi before? Your recipe for tortilla is very similar to that for chapathi. Only difference is that baking powder is not required.

You might have to get Truffle to make it for you. Chapathi was a staple in our maternal grandmother's house. She can get the recipe from our mother.

Best,
Cinnamon

~Mama said...

Thanks guys--We'll be eating stew all December in this house too, if it doesn't warm up soon! Good suggestion C, I have never made chapathi...I will have to give baking-powder-less tortillas a whirl and report back on the resulting chaos/success...

Cinnamon and Truffle said...

Will gladly make some for you, Mama! I was reminded of chapathi as I rolled the tortilla (because that must have been the last time I used a rolling pin!), but the flavour sensations were very different. As you suggest, I think so much of what we taste can be bound up in memories of special events and times.

Also, chapathis are made from wholewheat flour, whereas I guess the classic soft tortilla is from white flour. I got two recipes for chapathis from my mother yesterday. Might not partner creme brûlée too well, but there will definitely be an opportunity!

Love

Truffle

~Mama said...

Wonderful! Truffle, I look forward to your creme brulee and chapathis in equal measure. Also, it will be an opportunity for you to put me to work in your kitchen in exchange for your unpaid tortilla labour in mine! Best till then,
~Mama

Anonymous said...

Thanks for summing it up so well. I think I’ll be returning here often. Best Regards.

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