Thursday, July 1, 2010

Something Else for the Holidays - Tortillas and other Wraps

Back in the day, before history even happened, when the first humans were subsisting on little more than what could be found or caught they happened to also invent (discover?) the first breads. In various places and times the first people discovered that crushed grains, mixed with water and then baked made something that was not only tastier than plain, wheat, but also kept fresh longer. And it was easier to store. In this way, or some scenario like this the first breads, one of the oldest of foods were discovered. Quite likely it was all an accident. Some wet grains were in a pouch or something near a campfire and 'baked'. Invariably, these breads were/are all flat breads. The discovery of fermentation and 'proofing' or rising came later. And so, we have chapattis in India, and pita bread (probably a little later because of the yeast) in the Middle East. And tortillas. And injeera (Ethiopia) and even malawach (Yemen). And roti (Indian fried flat bread). Today flat breads are still very popular not only because they are easy to make, using very few, simple ingredients, but because they are so useful. I mean can you think of anything better for wrapping a burrito than a soft wheat tortilla? In the Middle East a flat bread called a laffa is used to wrap grilled spicy meats and salads, called a shawarma. This is much like the pita but without the pocket. Of course we shouldn't  forget the various wraps from Asia for egg rolls, spring rolls etc. They are of a different sort, thinner and usually fried, but they are still flat breads.

So to continue in the same vein as my last couple of postings, I bring you the wheat flour tortilla. However, I would like to suggest that you expand your horizons and think about eating them wrapped around just about anything. And with the first summer holidays upon us, now is a great time to grill some steak, or chicken breast, with a sassy marinade and lots of smoky flavor and then, with maybe a grilled pepper, or some grilled eggplant, wrap the whole thing up and chow down. With an excessively cold beer.
IMHO, the very best cookbook for flat breads is Pizza, Focaccia, Flat and Filled Breads For Your Bread Machine: Perfect Every Time. The lots and lots of great that you can roll flat for making great wraps etc. Another comprehensive collection of flat breads can also be found in Flatbreads and Flavors: A Baker's Atlas which also includes some incredible recipes for all those tasty treats you want to wrap the bread around, or dip it into. You won't go wrong with either one. Bye for now.

Traditionally, tortillas were/are made using lard for the fat. These days, many of us are cholesterol conscious, and/or vegetarians. I use regular vegetable oil and get great results.

Here's What You'll Need:
for about 20  8 inch round (20 cm) tortillas
1-2/3 cups all-purpose flour

  • 2 teaspoons shortening or vegetable oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
Note how simple and basic the ingredient list is...

Here's What You'll Need to do:

1. Mix together the flour, salt, and baking powder by hand.
2. Cut the shortening (if you use shortening) or vegetable oil  into the flour mixture. You should have a rough mixture. If you used shortening it should have the consistency of coarse cornmeal with lumps that are roughly pea-sized. Obviously, the oil mixture will still be coarse but not quite as lumpy.
3. Add the water a little at a time, mixing by hand until you have a fairly smooth but not sticky dough. You may not need all the water. Careful not to add too much flour or to knead too much. This makes for tough, heavy tortillas. Mix until the dough comes together, no more.
4. Place the dough ball in a lightly oiled bowl and turn to cover. Let the dough rest, covered for about 20 minutes. Then...
5. Divide the dough ball into golf ball sized pieces (or is it walnut-sized?) then roll them out to the size and thickness you prefer.
6. Cook the tortillas on a hot frying pan or griddle for a minute or two. The tortilla will start to bubble a bit on top and maybe smoke, too. Not to worry. Flip it over and cook on the other side for another minute. Then when it's done, place on a plate, and cover with a dry kitchen towel to keep from drying out.

7. Now the best part, fill it with whatever you like, fold over the bottom, and then the sides to wrap it up. Yum!!


  1. Does that say "between one and two thirds of a cup" or does it say "one and two thirds of a cup" of flour?

    1. I apologize for the inaccuracy. You are correct that it is not clear. I meant to say the latter, i.e., one and two thirds of a cup" of flour.
      Hope this helps.

  2. My girlfriend and I had a short discussion, couldn't agree and made a dough each... we both made some incorrect calculations though, so now we have a lot of very small tortillas... we're about ot find out how they taste.