Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Mexican Fiesta: Homemade Corn Tortillas and Pickled Red Onions


Yesterday, I shared the menu and the first few recipes from my football-themed Mexican fiesta. Today I'm sharing a couple more! First, a recipe for homemade corn tortillas. If you've never had a homemade corn tortilla, I highly suggest you do. It will change your perspective on Mexican food forever. Believe it or not, many Mexican restaurants do not necessarily feature fresh corn tortillas. Their enchiladas are made with store-bought corn tortillas and their soft tacos utilize flour tortillas. My first explicit memory of homemade corn tortillas was a Loteria, a small chain of amazing authentic Mexican restaurants in Los Angeles. I enjoyed a sampler of mini tacos, all on tiny homemade corn tortillas and topped with extremely authentic toppings--from nopales to carnitas. The tortillas were outstanding and memorable.


I decided it was time to pay some respect and make my own corn tortillas from scratch. I purchased a cast-iron tortilla press. With its brand name (the same as mine) "Victoria" emblazoned across the top, it seemed like a match made in Heaven :) The masa dough was super easy to make. I kneaded it easily by hand in just a few minutes. Pressing and cooking the individual tortillas took a bit more time because I couldn't cook too many at once. It quickly occurred to me that I should have started a lot earlier (I multiplied the recipe with intentions of making 30 tortillas)! Regardless of my poor timing, these tortillas were outstanding. They made all others posing as corn tortillas pale in comparison. From the flavor to the aroma and texture, they made this a true fiesta!


Additionally, I also threw together some pickled red onions as a possible garnish for the tacos. I remembered pickled red onion as one of the many authentic garnishes from my meal at Loteria and I thought it would be a really nice touch for our spread. While the original recipe I adapted used a lot more water than vinegar, I opted to stick with a stronger pickling solution and not dilute it with water. The pickled onions turned out great! They retained a nice texture and had a great sour-sweet element that helped cut through richness and spice from our taco fillings.


Homemade Corn Tortillas
Makes 16 (5 1/2-to-6-inch) tortillas

2 cups masa harina
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups water

Mix together the masa harina and kosher salt. Add the water and knead together until you form a smooth, firm dough, similar to Play-Doh. If it's too dry and crumbly, add a bit more water; too wet, add a little masa. You can do this step in an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook or by hand.

Cover the masa dough with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. The masa will continue to absorb the water during this time. Divide the dough into 16 equal portions (about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 ounces each), and form them into balls. Keep the balls of masa covered with a damp towel until you cook them.

To prepare the tortilla press, line it with plastic so the masa won't stick. Take a quart-size heavy-duty freezer bag and cut the sides (but not the bottom) so it opens like a book. Place one half of the plastic bag inside the tortilla press.

Place a ball of masa in the center of the tortilla press, pressing it gently with your hand into a disc. Then fold over the other half of the plastic sheet. Press down on the tortilla press to flatten the dough into a thin circle. It should be about 1/8-inch thick and about 5 1/2-to-6-inches in diameter. Open the press and carefully peel the plastic away from both sides of the tortilla. If the edges of the tortilla crack, the mixture is dry. Return the masa balls to a bowl and knead in more water before proceeding.

To cook the tortillas, preheat a dry skillet (preferably cast-iron...this process actually stained the stainless steel pan I used with black spots, requiring extensive cleaning) over medium heat. Place a tortilla on the pan and cook for about 1 to 2 minutes, until the bottom is charred in spots and the edges start to curl. Flip over and cook another 15 to 30 seconds. Transfer to a basket lined with a kitchen towel and cover with the towel to keep warm. The tortillas will soften and become more pliable from the residual heat from the other tortillas in the stack. Repeat, in batches, with the remaining dough. Serve immediately.


Pickled Red Onions
Makes about 1 cup
(Adapted from Bon Appetit)

1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 red onion, thinly sliced

Whisk the first 3 ingredients until the sugar and salt dissolve. Place onion in a jar; pour vinegar mixture over. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour. Cover and chill. This can be made up to 2 weeks in advance. Drain onions before using.

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