by Kate Heyhoe
Tortillas flavored with tomatoes, chiles and other seasonings are rapidly hitting the shelves, but there is still nothing that can replace the taste of a rustic, handmade tortilla fired off a hot grill. In her handsomely photographed new book Breads of the Southwest: Recipes in the Native American, Spanish, and Mexican Traditions (Chronicle Books), Beth Hensperger shows how to make tortillas by hand, as well as other traditional breads and even explores new breads of Southwest. In this tortilla recipe, she mixes old world ingredients together in a new coupling, rich in nutrients and taste. One of the key ingredients is amaranth, which she describes as follows:
"Amaranth, a grain about the size of a poppyseed, is high in calcium and phosphorus and contains approximately 16 percent protein and a high proportion of lysine, an essential amino acid rarely found in vegetable matter... Called the "Aztec grain" because of its use in early Mexican and Central American cultures for food as well as for religious ceremonies, it has as a strong, wild flavor and a rather gelatinous texture. It is available as whole grain or flour. Whole amaranth may be popped into tiny puffs, like popcorn. Adding the cooked grain to yeast and cornmeal batters helps baked goods to retain moisture and lightness."
These are modern-day corn and four tortillas, updated with some flavorful specialty flour added. Amaranth flour melds exceptionally well with the flavor of corn flour. Wild amaranth grain was widely used by the Apache and norther Mexico bakers. The tortillas bake up thick and are a good substitute for bread with a calabacitas or posole stew.
Makes twelve 4-inch tortillas
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour or bread flour
1-1/2 cups blue corn masa harina para tortillas or harinilla
1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup amaranth flour or mesquite flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups warm water
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) cold butter, cut into pieces
1) In a medium mixing bowl using your hands or a wooden spoon or in the bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the unbleached flour, the blue cornmeal, the whole wheat and amaranth flours, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the butter until crumbly, using a fork or pastry blender if making by hand. Gradually add the hot water to the flour mixture, stirring just until the dough sticks together, clears the sides of the bowl, and a soft firm ball is formed, adding a tablespoon of water at a time if the dough seems too dry. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rest for 45 minutes.
2) To shape the tortillas, divide the dough into 12 equal portions. Shape each into a ball and place on a baking sheet or marble slab. Drape each ball around your forefinger, making a depression on the underside, which makes a mushroom shape and creates an air bubble to help it roll out into an even round. On a very lightly floured work surface, flatten the ball with your palm. (The flattened balls can rest on a greased baking sheet, covered tightly, for 30 minutes longer, if necessary.) Place one of the portions of the dough between 2 pieces of plastic wrap or wax paper. Press in a tortilla press, turning at regular intervals, until the desired thickness. Or roll out with a rolling pin to a 4-inch round, 1/4 inch thick. Stack between layers of plastic wrap to prevent drying out while pressing out the remaining dough. Bake as soon as possible.
3) To bake the tortillas, heat a large ungreased heavy cast-iron skillet or comal over medium-high heat until a drop of water dances across the surface. Place the tortillas, one at a time, in the pan, and bake for about 2-1/2 minutes. When the dough looks dry and brown spots are formed, turn over to the other side and bake for 2 to 3 minutes. Keep flipping back and forth until the tortilla is soft, not crisp; it will puff up to l/2 inch thick. It is very easy to overbake, so pay close attention to the timing. Remove each tortilla to a clean towel. Cover until serving.
Breads of the Southwest:
Recipes in the Native American, Spanish, and Mexican Traditions
by Beth Hensperger
Chronicle Books, $22.95
March 3, 1997
Reprinted by permission.
This page originally published as a Global Gourmet Today column in 1998.
Copyright © 2007, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page modified January 2007
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