Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Essential Recipe for a Texan Abroad

There is no better way for a Texan living overseas to celebrate Cinco de Mayo than by listening to some Julietta Venegas and making fresh tortillas. I learned how to make tortillas from a fellow Texan living in Japan many moons ago. At the time, I lived in a small fishing town on the Okhotsk Sea where it was very difficult to find any non-Japanese food. Like most people who are raised on a steady diet of fajitas, tacos al pastor, and salsa riddled with jalapeños, my husband and I quickly became homesick for Tex-Mex. Luckily, the ingredients for flour tortillas are super simple, so I've been able to make them everywhere we've lived. Finding good beef, the ingredients for corn tortillas, and fresh jalapeños is another matter...

Flour Tortillas

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup Crisco*
1 cup warm water

  • Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl.
  • Cut the Crisco into the flour using a fork until a coarse, crumbly meal forms.
  • Slowly add the water a little at a time as you mix with a spoon until a soft dough forms. It should not be too sticky or wet. If it is, add a little flour.
  • Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic (about 5 minutes). Cover the dough and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  • Divide the dough into golf ball sized pieces. Cover the balls with plastic wrap or a towel so they do not dry out.
  • Heat a large pan over medium-low heat. Make sure it is dry. Do not add oil! As the pan heats up, roll out a ball of dough with a rolling pin to make a round, flat tortilla (it should be quite thin, but not so thin that it becomes translucent).

  • Place the tortilla on the hot pan and cook until it begins to puff up (the first few may not puff up nicely if the pan is not hot enough). This should take only two or three minutes.

  • Flip it over and cook on the other side for another minute. Your tortilla should be white with a few brown spots on both sides.

  • Remove the tortilla from the pan and place it between the folds of a clean towel to keep it warm and soft until you are ready to serve.
  • Once you get used to rolling out the dough, you'll be able to roll out
    one tortilla while another is cooking in the pan.
This recipe makes about 20 (depends on how many you eat as you cook).

For a super quick Tex-Mex fix, I use my tortillas to make quesadillas, which I serve with pico de gallo. Plain tortillas are equally delicious when they are hot and rolled up around a few good pads of butter. Buen provecho!

*If you can't find Crisco, or don't like using it, you can try vegetable cooking oil (this is what I used when I lived in Morocco). Your tortillas might not be as soft and pliable, though. If you live in Niamey, I found Crisco at Marina Market. Hopefully they still sell it!

Cheese Quesadillas

Grated cheese (queso fresco, mozzarella, mild cheddar, etc.)

  • Sprinkle a small handful of cheese on one tortilla. Cover it with another tortilla.
  • Place on a hot, dry pan over medium heat. Do not add oil to the pan!
  • Heat through on one side, about 2 minutes, until the cheese in the middle begins to melt.
  • Flip the quesadilla over to heat through the other side for about a minute or two.

Serve hot with pico de gallo or salsa.

Pico de Gallo

2 tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped
1/4 -1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
1-2 jalapeño peppers, finely chopped (or local hot pepper)
2-3 Tablespoons lime or lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

  • Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and mix well.
  • Serve as a condiment for quesadillas, tacos, yucca chips, steak, anything!

Makes about 2 cups

Adjust the quantities to achieve your preferred taste- saltier, spicier, etc.

(Adapted from Steven Raichlen's Healthy Latin Cooking)