by Kate Heyhoe
North America has been conquered by the tortilla, and quite willingly so.
Tortillas are the next best thing to sliced bread. Literally. In 2002, white bread outsold tortillas by a mere two percent as the leading bakery product in the United States. Popular as they are, bagels don't even compare in sales to the humble tortilla. Tortillas, made from either corn masa or wheat dough, capture a whopping 34 percent of the bread industry sales.
Clearly, traditions aside, the consumer now has a choice in how to eat their taco. Sandwich shops offer choices: white, wheat, or rye? Sourdough or sesame roll? Tacos can come wrapped in just as many varieties, though the traditional taqueria is unlikely to switch from the custom of serving taco fillings in two warm soft corn tortillas, gently overlapped. And why should they? The traditional fillings like beefy carne asada and shredded pork carnitas, topped merely with fresh lettuce or cabbage and a spoonful of salsa, mellowed by corn tortillas, are hard to beat. Still, untraditional and nuevo fillings have their own tantalizing place on the plate. Chef Dean Fearing at The Mansion on Turtle Creek, one of Dallas' most posh restaurants, serves tacos his way: made with lobster, spinach, and yellow tomato salsa, rolled in handmade flour tortillas.
Does the wrapper for a taco matter? Though I lean more to the purists' camp of using soft corn tortillas, I also believe it's a matter of personal preference, and the options are plentiful. An enormous variety of tortillas has emerged. I've seen corn tortillas flavored with jalapeño (a tropical green color), others are red with chiles. Fried corn tortilla chips come in these flavors and more, including avocado. White flour tortillas come spiked with roasted garlic, spinach, or peppers, and I've found some whole-wheat flour tortillas (sans added flavors) that are quite tasty without being overwhelmingly "whole-wheaty." and there are, not surprisingly in this Atkins-diet era, low-carb whole-wheat tortillas.
If you're planning a Cinco de Mayo fiesta, consider serving some of the recipes below with both traditional tortilla products and some of the flavored varieties. In my book Macho Nachos, I point out that some of the quickest, easiest, and tastiest ways to top a nacho or fill a tortilla are with prepared items from the hot-deli section of Mexican supermarkets: beefy carne asada, crispy pork carnitas, tender pollo, and of course, vibrant fresh salsas and creamy frijoles refritos. And for an added bit of fun, pick up a piñata or a string of red chiles as décor.
So enjoy the fiesta—and don't forget the tequila!
Plus: 50 more Mexican recipes in Mexico section.
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Copyright © 2004, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created April 2004
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